The aim of internationalization for Japan during the early postwar period, still emerging from being an ODA (Official Development Assistance) recipient nation, was to promote student exchanges and mutual understanding across nations. Japan then successfully shifted its role to that of an ODA provider in the 1970s, engaging as a responsible citizen in the international community. However, the nation’s competitive edge has slipped with a long-stagnating economy from the mid-1990s onward, the national target has shifted from the ODA provider role towards desperate attempts to regain the lost edge through public investment in research and development as well as promoting internationalization of the nation.
As the notions of world-class universities and global university rankings have prevailed worldwide over the last decade or so, the recent policies established by the Japanese government in response to an increasingly competitive and globalizing environment of higher education have transformed to leveraging domestic universities to compete for placement in the global university rankings. Balancing the reputation demonstrated in the global university rankings and generated inequalities in the service and quality of education provided among these institutions seems to be critically lacking in the current debate and hasty movement toward internationalization by the Japanese government. These hastily made policies do have some strong potential to build Japan’s universities into stronger institutions for learning, research, and producing globally competitive graduates. However, thorough long-range planning, keen insight into the overall impact of the policies, and clear long-term goals will be critical in attaining success.