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Attracting foreign talent to Japan’s universities

The Yomiuri Shimbun’s “Revitalizing Japan” series has been focusing on how to rebuild the country from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

In the previous section, we looked at how individual regions’ growth through their unique characteristics could lead to reconstruction of the entire country. The following is the first installment in the second section of the “Creative use of land” part of a series of articles examining ways to restore Japan’s vitality after the March 11, 2011, disaster.

This section will examine how to secure talented human resources for the development of regions–and the nation.

Shenzhen Virtual University Park, a research institute in Shenzhen, is drawing an increasing amount of attention as the supply source for talented human resources in the rapidly developing, southern Chinese city with a population of 14 million.

The “virtual” institution, which was established in 1999, comprises offices and laboratories for more than 50 domestic and international universities, including prestigious universities such as Peking University and Tsinghua University. In Shenzhen, which used to be a fishing village with a population of 30,000 before it was designated as a special economic zone, the supply of human resources has always been a weakness.

“The city would be unable to continue its development just because it’s a special economic zone unless it can secure excellent human resources,” said Zhang Keke, deputy director of Shenzhen-Hong Kong Institution, as he recalled the sense of urgency he felt at the time. Zhang had worked hard to open the university park.

Building a university that was attractive to highly capable students and researchers from scratch would require a tremendously long period of time. Therefore, Zhang came up with the idea of putting together campuses that were extensions of top-level domestic universities. At the same time, he encouraged exchanges between participating universities and local businesses so the project could contribute to the city’s industrial development.

“The school can attract talented human resources because top-level universities have established campuses there,” said Tetsuya Miki, special adviser to the president of The University of Electro-Communications, a Japanese university that joined the project. More than 140,000 students have studied at the university park.

Exchanges between the university park, local government and businesses have helped establish human connections and networks for fund provisions. As a result, more than 700 companies have been established by the institutes’ graduates with the school’s support.

According to data released by the Chinese government in February, Shenzhen topped the list of Chinese cities in terms of the number of applications for international patents for the eighth consecutive year in 2011. As economic globalization intensifies competition among not only countries, but also cities, an increasing rivalry has sprung up to win talented human resources.

Countries and cities must now make maximum use of their knowledge and expertise to attract and secure qualified people. Singapore, which is about the same size as the total combined area of Tokyo’s 23 wards, has made its presence felt globally thanks to its economic development. The country clearly presents its goals based on its national strategies and continues efforts to attract qualified workers.

Biopolis, an international research and development center for medical services and biotechnology, was established in Singapore in 2003. About 2,000 researchers from 60 countries now fiercely compete to lead the race for state-of-the-art research and development projects.

Benjamin Seet, executive director of the Biomedical Research Council at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, said attracting qualified human resources was of paramount importance.

“We must lure top-level scientists to us from both home and abroad,” Seet said.

Aiming to establish its status as a global research center in biotechnology, Singapore has strived to nurture its human resources at home and bring over foreign researchers as part of its national strategy. The number of researchers working in Singaporean public institutions and the private sector almost doubled from a decade earlier to 28,300 in 2010.

The concentration of advanced research in the country produced a virtuous cycle, resulting in increased foreign investment. Koichi Narasaka, who began teaching at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University as a visiting professor after retiring from the University of Tokyo, praised Singapore’s policy.

“The Singaporean government has a clear principle of linking research results with business,” he said.

When applying for research grants from public organizations and universities in Singapore, one must answer the following question: What kind of benefit will your research bring to the country? Once criticized for their conformity, a number of Japanese universities are now pursuing innovative efforts to attract competent students and faculty members.

On Feb. 27, a special seminar was held in Bangalore, a southern Indian city known for its focus on information technology, to commemorate the launch of the University of Tokyo’s Indian office. Until recently, universities in the United States and Britain were the overwhelmingly popular choice among Indian students wishing to participate in long-term study abroad programs.

Nilesh Vasa, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, said the number of IIT Madras students interested in studying in Japan began to increase five years ago as more Japanese companies expanded production in India. The University of Tokyo opened an office in Bangalore so it would not miss the chance to draw Indian students to study at its facilities in Japan.

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