President Kamata’s Speech at Spring 2014 Undergraduate Entrance CeremonyWed, Apr 23, 2014
Congratulations on entering Waseda University.
On behalf of the university, I’d like to welcome all the entering students, their families, and all the other members of our community here today.
We celebrate the 9666 new students entering thirteen undergraduate departments.
Waseda holds ceremonies for new students in April and September. Last September we had 283 new undergraduates, so the total for the year is 9949. It is truly wonderful to have so many excellent young people and experienced adults come together here at Waseda from around the world.
You have all surely heard the voices from the arenas of politics, business and the media calling for reforms in academia.
Last May, the government’s Education Rebuilding Council issued its third set of recommendations for higher education: 1. Continue building an educational environment fitted to globalization; 2. Continue building an educational environment which promotes creative innovation; 3. Improve the system of training students to perform in society; 4. Improve the system of continuing education for adults; 5. Work to improve governance and management fundamentals. The Council designated the five-year period through 2017 (H29) for intensive reforms in education by the government also, and called for prompt proposal and execution of specific reforms. In fact, reforms are progressing at a high pitch, with many of these recommendations under consideration now and some already being implemented.
Behind the vigorous demands from politics, business and mass media for reform of higher education are the forces of globalization and the super-aging society. To deal with those challenges, and to regain recognition in international society, there is an urgent need to stimulate creative innovation and to develop global human resources, who have insight and creativity as well as human character, leadership and ability to deliver results.
Indeed many Japanese companies have considerable business overseas and are hiring foreign workers over Japanese. The Japanese students among you will need to compete for jobs with students from overseas. It is incumbent on universities today to prepare Japanese students to compete with students from around the world.
Fortunately, Waseda is a leader in implementing focused reforms to deal with globalization, with the most international students and the most students going abroad.
Waseda has built a foundation of operation bases in 12 major world cities, partnerships with over 600 major overseas institutions, a comprehensive semester system and additional quarter-based offerings. Those measures, as well as six faculties and eleven research departments which offer degree programs exclusively in English, form the basis for attracting over 4000 international students last year, roughly half of them undergraduates.
As a result, there are opportunities in daily classes, extracurricular activities and dormitory life for discussion in a foreign language and deepening of cultural understanding with students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Waseda also offers a variety of study abroad programs to meet the needs of our students, and recognizing as many credits as possible encourages more students to study abroad. As a result, more than 20% of our students have a study abroad experience before graduation.
I urge you new students also to actively take advantage of these opportunities, to improve your ability to deal with globalization.
Waseda has been a leader in preparing the infrastructure to cope with globalization, but of course higher education is not simply aiming to teach skills that companies desire.
Education’s higher purpose is to tap into each individual’s latent potential, for each to push their limits, expanding their abilities over a lifetime, and to nurture the basic skills and intellect for those endeavors.
To that point, focus in Japan on objective, multiple-choice tests for admission selection has surely contributed to a bias in the education system towards rote knowledge and simple answers. Recognizing the connection to a lack of creativity and socialization in young people, and that primary and secondary education reform is linked to university admissions system, recently almost all prestigious universities have made proposals to reform their admissions selection process. The Education Rebuilding Council’s fourth set of recommendations will also propose reforms to the relationship between secondary (high school) and tertiary (college & university) and to the university admission selection system.
You too may have been taught that every problem has only one correct answer, but the real world is full of problems which are not easily solved, or that have multiple potential solutions. In university, a key task is learning how to approach a question for which no answer has yet been found. I charge you to take the knowledge you have accumulated for the examinations and make this transition.
The Waseda Vision 150 plan, adopted in 2012, includes a goal of producing students with the ability to identify the essence of a problem, investigate and analyze it, form a hypothesis, test it through discussion and experimentation, propose solutions and implement them. In view of this, we are working to expand opportunities for all our students to acquire practical language skills, academic writing and mathematical reasoning, to deepen and broaden the liberal arts, continue the transition from mass lectures to smaller discussion-based classes, and to broaden contacts with society such as internships, volunteering and other hands-on activities and career education.
Since its founding, Waseda has brimmed with clubs and other independent student-led activities. Students developing their talents and character through autonomous activities is a Waseda tradition.
Of course, it is up to each student to take full advantage of these opportunities. But if you look, you will find an amazing wealth of academic and cultural assets accumulated through Waseda’s long tradition.
In your university life, if you take initiative to search and learn, you will find nearly unlimited opportunities, but if you are hesitant and passive, the time will pass you by. For many of you, the next four years will be the last chance in your life to freely pursue whatever you wish, venturing into art or sports, and building a network of human relations which will become a treasure for your lifetime. I urge you to make these four years a deeply meaningful time in your life.
On a different note, it seems that the economic, social and cultural values in our society in Japan are changing, and that we are coming to a turning point. At the risk of exaggerating, after the Meiji modernization and postwar reconstruction, we seem to be entering the third period of transformation.
During that first transformation, Azusa Ono, a key mover in the founding of this university at Shigenobu Okuma’s right hand, spoke the following words at the opening ceremony of Tokyo Senmon Gakko in 1882. “If you want to free the country, you must first free the people. If you want to free the people, you must first free their minds. Further, if you want to free their minds, you must first free academia.”
This speech became the basis for Waseda’s principle of academic freedom. The people are the foundation of the nation and the society, but if they are ruled by short-sighted pursuit of profit and unconsciously drift with each social trend, they cannot fulfill their proper roles. Waseda University was founded to cultivate an independent minded citizenry. We must carry this principle in our hearts, always and everywhere.
Waseda’s founding principles continue, with Practical Application of Knowledge, meaning academic study should be pursued in parallel to development of its practical application; and Cultivating an Enlightened Citizenry, valuing individuality and educating students in academics and character, to contribute to the public good. Okuma stressed that cultivating this altruistic character was the spirit of this institution.
At this time when Japanese and global society faces a turning point, you students have a noble calling to shape the new era. We expect you, pondering Waseda’s founding principles, to sincerely and earnestly tackle academic pursuits, and to use the fruits of that labor for the good of mankind.
I welcome you and wish you great success in your university life.
Kaoru Kamata, President