On February 14, 2013, Dr. Mineo Nakajima passed away at the age of 76, leaving behind a legacy of reform in the Japanese higher education system. A former president and professor at the Tokyo Institute of Foreign Studies, as well as a prolific author on the subject of International Relations, Nakajima has spent the last 10 years almost single-handedly building the Kokusai Kyoyo Daigaku (international liberal education university), better known outside of Japan as Akita International University.
The institution’s progressive approach to internationalization includes an English only curriculum, mandatory one year study abroad for all students, and optional September start dates to match the American and European academic year. AIU has quickly grown into a well respected school that ranks among Japan’s elite universities in terms of desirability and entrance standards. The applicant to opening ratio is close to 20-1 in some disciplines.
AIU did not start out this way. Built upon the remains of the failed Minnesota State University in 2003, one of many foreign institutions that was forced to close their branch campuses in Japan as dwindling student numbers and decreased revenue left the ventures unviable. Nakajima had a vision to downgrade the professorial committees that often stifle university decision-making and enact a top down management strategy to streamline administrative operations. Firm academic standards were set and the next challenge was convincing the Ministry of Education to recognize degrees from an all English language curriculum. Recruiting native Japanese teachers able to provide such education was not easy either, but Nakajima did not digress from his goal and now other Japanese universities are imitating AIU.
AIU has become a popular destination for foreign students interested in studying in Japan and has partnered with institutions all over the world. As the Ministry of Education deals with declining numbers of Japanese students studying abroad and implements various internationalization strategies to try and solve this problem, AIU is a model of success.