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How to interpret world university rankings – The key is research, Waseda’s plan for the future

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SCHEMA, a robot developed by the Tetsunori Kobayashi Laboratory of Waseda University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, can naturally converse with people through voice and facial expression recognition, machine learning, and other communication methods. The robot is capable of conversing with several people simultaneously. The ICT and Robot unit of Waseda’s TGU initiative is training future scientists and researchers to fuse machinery and information communication technology in order to spur innovation.

To continue its mission of improving education and research, Waseda University’s long term plan, “Waseda Vision 150,” is carrying out various reforms that will strengthen international competitiveness and build a foundation fit for Asia’s leading university. Recognizing Waseda University’s efforts, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) selected Waseda as a Type A university for the Top Global University Project (TGU).

The overall drop of Japanese universities in global rankings has become a major top of discussion. Waseda University aims to enter the top 100 in eighteen research fields listed in the QS University Rankings by 2023. How is Waseda examining its position among universities around the world and how will the University climb to the top? Students occupied with classwork and extracurricular activities likely have few opportunities to learn about the University’ initiatives so we have taken this opportunity to speak with Vice President Shuji Hashimoto about Waseda University’s strategy.

Rankings will improve when Waseda accomplishes its initiatives“You are attending a good university”Words from Vice President Shuji Hashimoto

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Waseda University Vice President Shuji Hashimoto

――What are your general thoughts on global rankings?

It is very important for us to carry out education reform, refine our research strategy, and be aware of our stance among universities across the world. For this reason we pay particular attention to the rankings. However, it is certainly not the case that the sole purpose of our initiatives and reforms is to improve our ranking.

Waseda University is currently implementing its long term plan “Waseda Vision 150,” and carrying out numerous education and research initiatives. By implementing a quarter system and promoting international research collaboration to improve our international competitiveness, I believe we will be highly evaluated and our rankings will reflect this. Young people around the world look at rankings when choosing a university and Waseda which is home to 5,084 international students and planning to welcome twice this number by 2023 must be conscious of rankings. Pursuing reform that is appropriate for a global environment and improves the learning and research environment of students is the most important duty for faculty and staff.

――How do the rankings evaluate universities?


The methodology of the QS World University Rankings is available to the public. Research is one of the major indexes and universities are evaluated based on the number of citations per faculty.

“Research” is a difficult index to measure and it is impossible to create a ranking system without numerical values. Generally it is not the overall amount of research that matters but the amount of high quality research that can be presented to the public. To measure this, I believe the ranking systems uses “citations per faculty” as a way to evaluate the extent a specific university’s research is attracting attention from researchers.

Rankings also take into account student-to-faculty ratio as part of the education index. Generally I do not believe that a large number of students per faculty equates to low quality education, but QS evaluates universities based on this statistic. In response to further globalization, the rankings also focus attention on the ratio of international students and faculty.

In addition to these objective measurements the rankings also take into consideration academic reputation and employer reputation. The reputation of our graduates including the number of students working at prestigious companies and organizations is incredibly important. In the 2016 QS “Graduate Employability Rankings,” which measures the reputation of our graduates, Waseda University ranked 33rd in the world and number 1 in Japan. This is a very important index to understand our University’s position domestically and abroad.

――What are some of the ways in which Waseda is proactively addressing its rankings?

Research achievements and faculty in the field of medicine greatly impact world university rankings. This makes it very difficult for our University, which does not have a medical school, to improve its rankings. On the other hand, we have a wide range of departments in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Science and Engineering, and have worked hard to widen our fields and the amount of high quality, international research they produce. Among the research fields evaluated in the QS Rankings, we intend to be among the top 100 in eighteen of them (In the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, Waseda ranked among the top 100 in three fields, and the top 200 in 21 fields). By welcoming researchers that are capable of competing internationally, we will be able to collaborate with top universities and research organizations around the world. To accomplish this we are refining our University’s environment and infrastructure.

――What are Waseda University’s research strengths?

As part of our TGU initiative, “Waseda Ocean,” we have established six units of research: Global Japanese Studies, Empirical Analyses of Political Economy, Health Promotion: The Joy of Sports and Exercise, Frontier of Embodiment Informatics: ICT and Robotics, Energy and Nanomaterials, and Multiscale Analysis, Modeling and Simulation. We are focusing our attention on these six units to promote our vision and strengthen the international competitiveness of research that corresponds to these units. We also hope to expand our expertise and competitiveness in other fields. By clearly identifying the areas of research we are concentrating on, we hope to promote exchange and further strengthen our reputation.

――What is your personal assessment of the QS Rankings?

Considering Waseda University’s strengths, I feel our rank of 212th worldwide (9thdomestic) is rather low. Although the absence of a medical school presents obstacles, I feel we exhibit considerable strength in the research fields corresponding to the aforementioned six units. If we enter the top 100 in eighteen research fields, we will be much closer to becoming a top 100 university. There are many outstanding researchers at Waseda so I believe we are capable of competing internationally.

――Are you paying particular attention to areas not reflected in the rankings?
Building 3, which finished construction in October 2014, is equipped with an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) compatible environment, and Group Learning Classrooms and Common Areas that promote interaction among students.

Building 3, which finished construction in October 2014, is equipped with an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) compatible environment, and Group Learning Classrooms and Common Areas that promote interaction among students.

Areas that cannot be calculated numerically such as educating students to be productive members of society and improving our academic and social reputation are very important. Other than student-to-faculty ratio, there are no other indexes for evaluating education in the QS Rankings. We are improving our education techniques in various ways including with the introduction of “Active Learning”.

――What are your thoughts on today’s students and faculty?

People used to say “first-rate students, second-rate facilities, and third-rate faculty” when talking about our University (laughs). Taking this into consideration, we must retain our “first-rate” students and make our facilities and faculty “first-rate” as well. It is because our University has long attracted outstanding students that we have a great environment for students. It should also be noted that we have recently recruited exceptional faculty. I believe our University has more power than ever at attracting outstanding students.

――What is the appeal of Waseda University for international students?
Waseda University has a diverse student body, with 5,084 students from 105 countries and regions.

Waseda University has a diverse student body, with 5,084 students from 105 countries and regions.

Universities in the US are said to cost around 40,000 USD for one year of tuition. Our University costs around 15,000 USD (depending on department). Although not cheap, the difference is considerable, and if our University can provide a study abroad experience that is on par, if not superior to its American counterparts, then studying at Waseda surely has its merits. Our University is forming partnerships with top universities in the US and is a place where students can enroll in a curriculum as well as study abroad. There are notable merits for international students. Studying at Waseda is not merely “coming to Japan,” it is “going out into the world.” We are becoming a university that embodies this idea.

――What is the number one thing you would like to tell students?

Essentially, I want to tell students and want them to understand that they are attending a good university (laughs). We have a diverse student body and faculty, and for this reason if students are proactive, they can gain a great deal by attending our University. They can make lifelong friends, become entrepreneurs, and form their own volunteer organizations. There are also a great number of support programs for students that wish to study abroad. Some of our graduates that have gone on to become famous or executives at large corporations sometimes say things like “I didn’t study at university.” However, I think these individuals learned much outside of the classroom. Building on the dynamic learning environment of our university, we are creating more classes that have few students and promote discussion and problem solving. As students study, they will have greater opportunities to utilize what they have learned to achieve great success in the world. If Waseda can unleash its potential, we can produce even greater research, and even more exceptional graduates.

[Profile]

Shuji Hashimoto is Vice President of Waseda University and a Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. He graduated from Waseda University’s Department of Physics in 1970. In 1979 he became Lecturer at Toho University and in 1989 became Assistant Professor. In 1991, he became Assistant Professor at Waseda University and in 1993 become Professor at the School of Science and Engineering. His specialty is information measurement and processing technology. He has since served as Director of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Science and Engineering, and the Graduate School of Science and Engineering. In November, 2010, he became a permanent member of Waseda University’s executive board.

*1) In addition to the QS Rankings discussed by Vice President Hashimoto, there are other world rankings such as Times Higher Education, Shanghai Ranking, and US News “Best Global Universities”.

*2) QS University Rankings are managed by the English run Quacquarelli Symonds. The 2016 World University Rankings by Subject is based on feedback from 76,798 researchers and 44,426 employers, and an information database that tracks publications, citations, abstracts, and cited publications. Rankings by Subject have been published every year since 2011.

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“Waseda Ocean,” Waseda’s initiative for international research development

Waseda University collaborated with UCLA to develop an application that helps users rediscover the beauty of cursive style “hentaigana” found in classic Japanese works such as the Tale of Genji. The application is free to use and implements game-like mechanics to help users learn how to read the characters. The application is just one project made possible by Waseda Ocean’s Global Japanese Studies unit.

Waseda University collaborated with UCLA to develop an application that helps users rediscover the beauty of cursive style “hentaigana” found in classic Japanese works such as the Tale of Genji. The application is free to use and implements game-like mechanics to help users learn how to read the characters. The application is just one project made possible by Waseda Ocean’s Global Japanese Studies unit.

1. Global Japanese Studies

2. Frontier of Embodiment Informatics: ICT and Robotics

3. Empirical Analyses of Political Economy

4. Health Promotion: The Joy of Sports and Exercise

5. Energy and Nanomaterials

6. Multiscale Analysis, Modeling and Simulation

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