Japan: Involving students in 'hot science'

'Student exchanges and research should go hand in hand because the one boosts the quality of the other.  In our experience, students lift international research collaboration to a higher level.'

The above statement was made by Wojciech Jacek Miloch at this year's Japan-Norway Science and Innovation Week, which took place in Tokyo early summer.

Miloch is an associate professor at the Department of Physics at the University of Oslo (UiO) in Norway. He has been granted funding from the Utforsk Partnership Programme for a collaboration with Kobe University in Japan. Miloch participated in the Education Session at the conference. 

One of the trends at this year's conference was the challenge of involving education and students in research collaboration – how to do this in practice?  

The panel at the Education Session (from the left):  Toshiaki Komatsu, Hideyuki Usui, Wojciech Jacek Miloch, Egil Pedersen, Masahiko Fujii and Bjørn Reidar Sørensen. (Photo: Runo Isaksen/SIU)


Broader perspectives

Wojciech Jacek Miloch from UiO was among those invited to answer it. First, however, Norwegian State Secretary Bjørn Haugstad opened the Education session.

 'Young people today encounter challenges that we have never seen before. Developments are moving so fast and the effects are unknown. In a situation of this kind, we need knowledge. It is therefore also crucial that students become active participants in ongoing, relevant research, not just passive recipients of old knowledge,' said the state secretary. 

 He also reminded those present that the most pressing challenges of our time are global ones.

'International collaboration leads to broader perspectives. Today's students are the scientists and politicians of tomorrow. They need to develop a global mindset, which is another reason why we must include them in international academic collaboration,' Haugstad said.

The state secretary called for increased educational collaboration with Japan, and emphasised that, in recent years, Japan has launched a number of educational policy measures to become more international.

Students publish articles

'Involving students in research – success factors and challenges' was the title of the talk given by UiO physicist Wojciech Jacek Miloch together with his Japanese partner, Professor Hideyuki Usui from Kobe University.

One main goal of the collaboration is to find out more about what happens when rockets are launched and 'collide' with plasma in the ionosphere. What happens to the rocket and its measuring instruments? And what happens to the plasma? Support from the Norwegian Utforsk Programme for institutions made it possible to hold two joint workshops in 2015, where 33 students participated.

'We wanted to involve the students in the "hot science" in our research, so that they could also publish research articles. We have a long-term goal of increasing student, staff and knowledge mobility,' said Professor Hideyuki Usui.

Take part in real research

What, then, are the success factors for linking education and student mobility to research?

 One piece of advice the two scientists have is to focus on group dynamics and team-building on the first day when the students meet. Another tip is that ordinary classroom teaching is not enough: work as hands-on as possible. A third tip is to take it easy at the start of the collaboration, then build it up gradually.

 'We have started linking student mobility to the workshops. That also helps the students to get to know each other better. Our students don't take courses and earn credits yet. We first have to be completely certain that our courses can be considered equivalent. Instead, they take part in real, concrete research,' says Miloch.

 ‘in our experience, the students contribute to lifting the international collaboration to a higher level,' he added.

And what are the challenges? Language was mentioned by several speakers. Japanese students and academics are generally good at reading and writing English, while their spoken English skills vary more.

The semester structure in Japan and Norway is different, which means that some extra planning and creativity are necessary. Students' wishes and priorities can also differ. In Miloch's experience, Japanese students often want shorter periods of study or practical training abroad.

Japanese students to Norway

The participants also discussed what is often named the Knowledge triangle: The cooperation between education, research and innovation, as well as the importance of linking these three elements more closely together.

 One person who is working on achieving such closer links is Toshiaki Komatsu: professor and talent developer at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMSAT). 

Toshiaki Komatsu has big ambitions for future Norwegian-Japanese collaboration at the intersection between the higher education sector, the labour market and business and industry. (Photo: Runo Isaksen/SIU)

Toshiaki Komatsu has big ambitions for future Norwegian-Japanese collaboration at the intersection between the higher education sector, the labour market and business and industry. (Photo: Runo Isaksen/SIU)

 When the Japanese company Mitsubishi acquired the Norwegian aquaculture company Cermaq in 2014, Komatsu immediately saw a potential for Norwegian-Japanese collaboration. The results so far? The first four TUMSAT students will come to Norway in autumn 2016 for an internship, i.e. a period of practical training. The Norwegian Nord University is part of the collaboration. But this will just be the start, if Komatsu gets his way.

 'We are making a modest start with just four Japanese students, but we want to expand the collaboration. I am looking at several Norwegian universities and enterprises,' said Komatsu, who has many years' experience from Japanese business and industry.