Toyoshi Satow – The new face of global higher education

Chancellor of JF Oberlin University in Tokyo Dr Toyoshi Satow took over the three-year presidency of the International Association of University Presidents at its 2014 conference held in Yokohama in Japan. He outlined his vision for the IAUP, known as the ‘global voice of higher education’.

UWN: As you take on the IAUP presidency what do you think are the main challenges for university leaders, looking ahead?

Satow: We are all aware the world is rapidly globalising and changing. We are not talking about boundaries any more. We talk about the globe and its citizens. However, we still see many global problems such as complex issues in the world economy, regional or religious conflicts, environmental issues and so forth.

The challenge for higher education and university leaders is how we can contribute to solving these global problems, and how we can educate young people to work together to create the future. In this sense, global education is pretty much an important topic for all university presidents. IAUP is sure to develop this idea of global education.

Other important issues are maintaining quality while providing good access to higher education and listening to ‘the voices of the future’, the students themselves and what expectations they have.

UWN: The theme of the conference is “The University of the Future”. Why is this a good time to review higher education and where it should be going?

Satow: In the age of highly developed information technologies and global networking, you cannot be simply local or global. You are local and global at the same time.

We still believe in the academic disciplines that help us become good citizens but we believe now is a very good time to work together with more interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, international, global perspectives to explore a future vision.

We believe this Yokohama IAUP triennial conference will be a turning point for all of us to create the big first step towards the future of higher education.

UWN: How can university leaders plan for the university of the future?

Satow: IAUP is surely a great gathering of world innovative, experienced, talented leaders of universities.

As a university leader, you always need to have a big picture of your university and higher education as a whole to which you can contribute, and you need strategies to realise your vision and goal.

But you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of university presidents – retired, experienced, newly appointed. There is the big mountain and a great wealth of knowledge and skills that those leaders can share.

So why don't we share our knowledge, experiences, skill and help each other, not just for the success of the university but for the success of global higher education.

UWN: There was a view three years ago at the start of the outgoing IAUP presidency that higher education was in crisis due to the global recession. What is the picture at the beginning of your presidency – Is global higher education broken? What needs to be fixed?

Satow: We see there are some critical problems.

First, there is a financial problem. University budgets and financial circumstances are different from one university to another. It depends on either private or public, small or big, this country or that country, non-profit or for profit and so forth. Finance is often the biggest problem for enterprises but universities are not the exception even if funded by the government.

Secondly, since values are changing in general, expectations towards university education are also changing.

In developed countries, there is a tendency for young people not to value physical university education. Instead, they use and appreciate the power of the internet to gain knowledge and ideas. There is a big debate about online learning, including MOOCs – massive open online courses – and similar services, so we will need to be fully aware of what the expectations are towards universities and how we can change ourselves to better meet those expectations.

Finally, we still see similarities and differences between universities around the world. In order to promote and carry out a truly global education together, we need to come up with some alternatives to overcome these problems.

We don't think global education is broken. We believe we can outline a broad vision and strategies to create the future of higher education. IAUP is of course the place to start.

UWN: There is a great deal of discussion nowadays about how universities can prepare students for the world, make them more employable. Will this be an important theme for the future of universities?

Satow: This issue needs to be treated and discussed carefully. More and more universities provide students with practical programmes so that their graduates can obtain a job when they graduate. On the other hand, there are also strong discussions underlining the importance of the traditional academic disciplines and the liberal arts.

Thus this is an important theme. This brings us back to the basic question of what the nature of higher education is and what ‘global education’ should be. We will exchange ideas and opinions on this in our IAUP conferences.

UWN: Even if university presidents can set out a joint vision for the future, how will they ensure they are heard by policy-makers?

Satow: University presidents need to persuade various stakeholders with different perspectives. It is important for all of us to create a vision for the future that would be understood by all, and valuing all stakeholders' demands and perspectives.

This is one of the biggest challenges we face but if people think our vision is good for the world’s people, then the vision itself gradually gains power. We are not in haste but we will constantly try hard to make it happen.

UWN: How will you incorporate the views of students in this plan for the future?

Satow: As you have already noticed in the programmes of our Yokohama conference, students are already involved.

This time a group called ASPIRE has been working with the IAUP and giving presentations in one of the sessions at the conference. Also we have school pupils who are going around doing interviews with university presidents from around the world.

I believe this kind of communication and interaction will help university presidents to create a vision for the future. We continue to include the voices of students in creating the future of higher education.

UWN: How will you promote the partnership with UNAI? What do you think the UN and universities can achieve together?

Satow: We have been closely working with the United Nations Academic Impact and promoting their programmes. We think this relationship benefits both the United Nations and universities around the world.

The basic principles of UNAI include themes such as freedom of speech, educational opportunities, access to higher education, peace, poverty reduction, sustainability, cross-cultural understanding and so forth.

It is a great platform for universities to contribute to the world, educate their students to global standards, and enlarge their network with other universities in the world, while the UN will realise its goals with the help of universities through this programme.

We are sure this relationship will be a great success.

UWN: What will the conference achieve?

Satow: Metaphorically speaking, each university president is a dot. If he or she can meet other presidents and shake hands, they create a network or line and have shared values and goals.

If we can draw many, many lines, then it becomes a stratum or IAUP face that consists of various cultures, countries, ideologies, ideas, characters, or goals but working as a strong face of higher education.

This is the goal of this IAUP conference.

* Q&As are edited for length and clarity.