Greetings from the Program Leader

On the Launching of our 21st Century COE Program

KATO Tsuyoshi, Program Leader
(June 2003)

In October 2002, a joint education and research program by the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS) and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), both of Kyoto University, was launched following its acceptance as a 21st Century Center of Excellence program by Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sciences and Sport (MEXT). Before providing an explanation of our Program, we would like to briefly describe the background and aims of MEXT's 21st Century COE Program. We believe that in order to comprehend the contents of individual programs, it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the intent of MEXT in introducing the COE Program.

The "Heisei University Reform" and the 21st Century COE Program
In FY1991, a university reform was introduced in Japan, which some people eventually came to call the "Heisei University Reform." With the background of a weakening of the foundations of Japanese universities, caused by the falling number of children, declining scholastic abilities, and brain drain of faculty and students abroad as part of Japan's internationalization, MEXT began to adopt a series of new policies for higher education.

The precursor to the "Reform" was the major relaxation of regulations for the establishment of universities and the prioritization of graduate schools in FY1991, under which graduate schools were made the primary organizational units of universities. With these changes, the clear division between liberal arts education and discipline-based education was eliminated, and universities gained the freedom to set their own curricula, including the freedom to abolish liberal arts education per se and instead introduce discipline-based education from the freshman year. Thus, it became critical to deal with the question of how to reorganize the old liberal arts faculties, which had specialized in liberal arts education for all incoming students for their first two years in college, in line with the prioritization of graduate schools. At Kyoto University , the liberal arts faculty was dismantled, and in its place the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies (FY1991) and Faculty of Integrated Human Studies (FY1993) were established. The Japanese bestseller Chi no giho (Techniques of knowledge), published in 1994, was written as a textbook for the introductory seminar of the College of Arts and Science, Tokyo University Komaba Campus. It was devised under this situation as a means for its survival; the textbook was supposed to show that the college was capable of transforming itself into a graduate school with arts and science as its disciplines.

The 1990s also saw a series of other reform measures either proposed or implemented, such as the introduction of institutional self-evaluations and the fixed-term employment of university faculty, the establishment of a technology licensing office at universities to provide a bridge between private enterprises and the achievements of university research (such as patents), the establishment of the National Institute for Academic Degrees for third-party evaluations of universities, and plans for professional graduate schools such as law schools and business schools. The 21st Century COE Program was initiated as part of this stream.

In June 2001, MEXT Minister TOYAMA Atsuko announced the "Policies for the Structural Reform of Universities," which came to be known as the "Toyama Plans." The major points were reorganization and integration of national universities, their corporatization, and the introduction of the principle of competition. In terms of reorganization and integration, with the goal of greatly reducing the number of national universities and simultaneously reinvigorating them, a process of "scrap and build" was encouraged between the 99 national universities. As of mid-2003, 12 pairs of national universities -including Tsukuba University and University of Library and Information Science, and Kobe University and Kobe University of Mercantile Marine- are slated to be merged by the end of FY2003. Corporatization means the rapid transformation of national universities into independent administrative institutions to introduce management approaches based on private-sector ideas. This process is to begin from April 1, 2004 .

Another change is the principle of competition. By prioritizing the allocation of research funds in accordance with the results of third-party evaluations, the idea is to differentiate among institutions of higher education and research, and to develop those selected institutes to the world's highest level. The "21st Century COE Program," which was named "Top Thirty Program" at the outset, is construed as a first step in the full-fledged introduction of the principle of competition.

The Purpose of MEXT's 21st Century COE Program
The 21st Century COE Program was set up with the following goals: "establish and infuse a prioritized funding system into the development of research and higher education in Japan. In doing so, it seeks to raise to the highest world level the standard of research and higher education in designated areas of study at competitively selected core universities, thereby fostering creative young people capable of becoming future world leaders in their respective academic fields; it works to build universities with a radiant and distinct institutional culture and strong prowess to compete internationally." Ten areas of study were selected, with an initial plan to select 30 core universities for each area, leading to the term "Top Thirty." "Building universities with radiant and distinct institutional culture" and "strengthening international competitiveness" are the current keywords of MEXT's policies related to higher education, on par with "building a nation of education and culture" and "building a nation of scientific and technological achievements."

In FY2002, the first fiscal year of the Program, solicitations for applications were made for five of the ten academic fields or areas of study. These five fields were life sciences; chemistry, material sciences; information sciences, electrical and electronic engineering; humanities; and interdisciplinary, composite, new fields. Each of these fields was divided into sub-fields, and our Program falls under the category of "area studies" within "interdisciplinary, composite, new fields." The total budget for the 21st Century COE Program in FY2002 was 18.2 billion yen. It is scheduled to last for a maximum of five years, with mid-term third-party evaluations conducted at some point. In FY2002, there were 464 applications, and 113 were approved. "Interdisciplinary, composite, new fields" received 113 applications (24 were approved) and was, along with "life sciences" (112 applications), one of the areas with the greatest number of applications.

In FY2003, the following five fields were targeted for the second installment of the 21st Century COE Program: medical sciences; mathematics, physics, earth science; mechanical, civil, construction and other fields of engineering; social sciences; and once again interdisciplinary, composite, new fields. A total of 611 applications were received, and as of May 2003, the document and panel evaluations are being conducted. Also in FY2003, a program similar to the 21st Century COE was launched, targeted not toward advanced research and education, but mainly education at the undergraduate level, called the "Support Program for Distinctive University Education." However, it is unclear whether new applications will be solicited for any of these programs in FY2004.

Five Programs in the "Area Studies" Sub-Field
The five following projects in the sub-field of "area studies" were accepted for FY2002, under the leadership of each graduate school faculty.

  • Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Graduate School of Area and Cultural Studies: "Centre for Documentation & Area-Transcultural Studies"
  • Sophia University , Graduate Division of Foreign Studies: "Establishment of Area-based Global Studies"
  • Waseda University , Graduate School of Political Science: "Creation of New Contemporary Asian Studies"
  • Aichi University , Graduate Course on Chinese Studies: "International Center for Chinese Studies"
  • Kyoto University , Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies: "Aiming for COE of Global Area Studies: Establishing Field Stations in Asia and Africa , and Integrating Research Activities and On-Site-Education"

Partially because of the addition of a sub-title, our Program's name is the longest; the sub-title was adopted to clarify the aims of the Program. We would like now to briefly describe our Program, using some of its several keywords: "Integration of Field Research and On-Site Education," "Center for Integrated Area Studies," and the common research theme of "Human-Nature Coexistence in a Glocalizing World."

Integration of Field Research and On-Site Education
First, we would like to briefly explain the background to the development of our Program.

Kyoto University has a long history of research in area studies centered around Southeast Asia and Africa , but the history of education in this area is not as long. In 1981 faculty members specializing in ecology at CSEAS started teaching at the Division of Tropical Agriculture of the Kyoto University Graduate School of Agriculture, but more full-fledged efforts in a wider range of fields began only about ten years ago.

In FY1991, the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies was established, and two years later, in FY1993, the Department of Southeast Asian Studies and the Department of African Area Studies were established under the Division of Culture and Area Studies. There were some later changes, but essentially it is these two departments that became independent from the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, and in 1998 the current ASAFAS was launched with the incorporation of South Asian and West Asian area studies. During the initial period, the most serious challenges facing the faculty were how to promote the costly fieldwork for the graduate students, given that fieldwork is the basic methodology of area studies, how to teach fieldwork, and also how to carry out education when students are involved in fieldwork overseas.

The sub-title of our 21st Century COE Program, "Establishing Field Stations in Asia and Africa , and Integrating Research Activities and On-Site-Education," expresses our stance of taking on this issue head on. In other words, it is our intention, by supporting the students' fieldwork financially through the Program and having teachers and students spend some time together under the same roof in the field, to integrate field research and on-site education, and hopefully have the on-site education reflected into on-campus education.

Aims of the Center for Integrated Area Studies
The other pillar of the Program is to prepare for the Center for Integrated Area Studies, both in the hardware (purchase of equipment and materials) and software (hiring of experts), using the Program budget. The new Center, which is planned to be launched jointly by ASAFAS, CSEAS and the Center for African Area Studies, will act as the base for the collection and dissemination of information and materials on the Asian and African regions.

The Center for Integrated Area Studies is one of the expected fruits of the project "Making Regions: Proto-Areas, Transformations and New Formation in Asia and Africa" (FY1998-2002) carried out, in tandem with ASAFAS, under the leadership of CSEAS, as a Center of Excellence program (the precursor to the 21st Century COE Program). The purpose of this project was to gather various types of materials on Asia and Africa and build an international network in area studies. As concrete steps toward the establishment of the Center for Integrated Area Studies, a preparatory office was established in FY2003 jointly by ASAFAS and CSEAS, and preparations are underway to launch it as an on-campus facility in FY2004. The purchase of servers and other equipment, and the hiring of specialists have already begun with the FY2002 budget of the 21st Century COE Program.

The role of the Center for Integrated Area Studies is to support and complement on-site education and field research, to accumulate, process and disseminate multidimensional information on the Asian and African regions, and to function as an international nodal point for digital information network between researchers and research institutes involved in Asian and African area studies. The former aims to provide informational support for the integration of on-site education and field research, and the latter, through two-way and non-hegemonic dissemination and exchanges of information with the rest of the world, to promote research and education in area studies and feed back research findings to the general public. This is a very ambitious aim, and we are now facing a crucial test of how "words" can be made into "deeds." The concept of "multidimensional information" mentioned above needs some explanation. In the transdisciplinary area studies of ASAFAS and CSEAS, an incredible array of information is used. It includes diverse books and periodicals in various local languages as well as maps, aerial photos, Landsat images, audiovisual materials and botanical specimens. The information we collect and use is indeed multidimensional.

The Significance of the Common Research Theme of "Human-Nature Coexistence in a Glocalizing World"
The 21st Century COE Program has only a limited budget to carry out its various activities -financial support for students' fieldwork, the integration of on-site education and field research, and the collection, processing and dissemination of multidimensional information- and there are also limits to the efforts and energy of the staff of ASAFAS and CSEAS. We cannot simply take on anything and everything related to the Asian and African regions. Consequently, we made the decision to set a common research theme, setting the priorities to be taken up by the Program.

We took three things into consideration when adopting the common research theme. The first was the integrated area studies that we are advocating. This means a kind of area studies which emphasizes fieldwork as its basic methodology, focuses on gaining an integrated grasp of the dynamic interrelationships between ecology, society and culture in the Asian and African regions, and aims to intellectually take on the practical issues of the modern world, or in other words integrated area studies in the sense of being field-oriented, transdisciplinary, and applied.

The second is the distinctive feature of the research carried out until now by ASAFAS and CSEAS, that is, research on ecology and environment as an important pillar. And the third is the basic philosophy adopted in recent years by Kyoto University , "Harmonious coexistence of the global community."

The common research theme that was finally agreed to based on these considerations was "Human-Nature Coexistence in a Glocalizing World." In connection with this theme, four narrower problem areas were also identified: human-ecological, politico-economic, socio-cultural, and theoretical-methodological, which considers methodologies toward transdisciplinary studies. The activities supported by the Program should in principle fit within the overall theme and four problem areas, and the goals are to promote the accumulation of knowledge and dissemination of information within these guidelines.

Setting Our Eyes beyond the Completion of the Program
Fiscal year 2002 had profound significance for ASAFAS. The Graduate School, which had been established in April 1998 with the special feature of a unified five-year education, completed the move to that system this year, and at the end of the fiscal year, turned out its first graduates with a doctoral degree in area studies. In addition, the Center of Excellence program "Making Regions: Proto-Areas, Transformations and New Formation in Asia and Africa" (FY1998-2002) was brought to term successfully, and we were able to launch the current 21st Century COE Program (FY2002-2006) that we are introducing here, "Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies." It is exciting to think of how many doctoral dissertations will have been completed by the time the Program concludes in FY2006. Of course, these are not our only expectations.

In the background of the above-mentioned achievements, ASAFAS is currently formulating a number of short- and mid-term plans. One, as mentioned earlier, is to work together with CSEAS to launch the Center for Integrated Area Studies as a base for collecting and disseminating materials and information regarding the Asian and African regions, and to work for the joint establishment by the new Center, ASAFAS and CSEAS of the Kyoto University Area Studies Network, to function as a nodal point for area studies in Japan. A second is to improve ASAFAS' research and educational environment generally -not simply in terms of the information environment- but including the construction of a new building, so that all faculty and students of ASAFAS who currently reside in four locations on campus can concentrate on their research and educational activities under one roof. A third is to examine ASAFAS' experiences up to now from both external and internal perspectives, using self-evaluations as well as external evaluations. The aim is to reflect upon and reevaluate the School's curriculum and organizational setup, and to build an ever better research and educational system for integrated area studies. This will include the launch of a "Division of South and West Asian Area Studies" through an expansion of the Department of South and West Asian Area Studies, and plans for a "Division of Comparative Area Studies."

The establishment of field stations, integration of on-site education and field research, and development of the Center for Integrated Area Studies -none of these will come to a happy end with the termination of the 21st Century COE Program. Rather, the challenge that has already started concerns how to reap the fruits of the 21st Century COE Program, and how to make them grow even larger, while giving due consideration to the above-mentioned short- and mid-term projects of ASAFAS.