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Wednesday,March 20,2019
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KYOTO UNIVERSITY: bastion of academic freedom

A month ago, Korea failed again to produce a Nobel Prize winner in any of the categories.  Everyone knows it is hard to win this prize; however, it seems this is much more difficult for Asian countries compared with Western countries.  Only 27 Asians have won the Nobel Prize since the awards’ inception in 1901.  Surprisingly, Japan has a total of 15 laureates, five of whom came from Kyoto University, in the field of natural science.  Moreover, Kyoto has produced two recipients of The Fields Medal, regarded by many as the ‘Nobel Prize for Mathematics’.  Japan and Kyoto’s success is all the more painful for Koreans because, although domestic universities are ranked highly here, no one has come close to winning any of the aforementioned awards. What has made Kyoto University produce such achievements?

Established
Founded in May 1869
Type
Public (National)
Location Kyoto, Japan
Students About 22,700 including undergraduates and graduates students
Faculty 2,900
School Staff  2,500

Advocate of Independent Thinking
All Kyoto members, from faculty to students, believe that independent thinking and autonomy creates a culture of creativity and achievement.

To begin with, each faculty guarantees student autonomy by not poking its nose into student affairs.  Moreover, they never try to force them, the students, to study or, indeed, tell them what they should study.  They also never ask such questions as "what is going on with your work?"  Instead of assigning tons of homework, the professors offer wise counsel on their students’ work.  The point of this is to instill in them egalitarian principles such as free-thinking and self-reliance. For it is these principles which encourage students to conduct significant creative research.  Professor Kim Mun-kyung, a director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities, said:  "These qualities encourage students to be more proactive. The downside to this, however, is that such a 'laissez faire' approach may produce irresponsible students.  Fortunately, most students don’t abuse this privilege because they don’t want to fall behind on their work."  For this reason, they try to chase two hares at once; they study hard and, at the same time, enjoy their freedom.  This nourishes the spirit of intellectual freedom.  Therefore, it is up to the students’ own consciences whether they want to devote themselves to club activities or studying.  "I decided to go to Kyoto University when I was in high school. Kyoto University's academic tradition respects the principles of liberty. This is in complete contrast to the highly regimented Japanese high school system," said Nakagawa Dakashi, an Economics freshman.
    
Secondly, the Kyoto University authorities guarantee their faculties’ intellectual autonomy, both in research and teaching.  The School Authority (SA) believes the main role of a university is to support academic freedom. It is important that the professors are able to research with impunity.  Currently, modern society prefers applied science to basic science, because the former is seen more socially useful.  This is why, following global trends, the applied sciences receive strong financial support. In contrast, the basic sciences find it very difficult to receive good financial funding.  This trend might be the case in other universities, but in Kyoto the thinking is different. Junko Takami, a director in the Kyoto University Public Relations Department, said: "basic science is at the heart of all discoveries, so it should not be devalued.  That is why we provide the basic sciences’ faculties with strong financial support."  Also, the SA does not try to check up on these schools’ research results or press them to produce results as soon as possible. “We invest in the long term. For instance, Toshihide Maskawa, a winner of the Nobel Prize, has produced only three research results during his lifetime.  However, SA has never checked on his project or urged him to produce results.  SA trusts him because we know that his research will be worthy," said Prof. Kim.

Informing the Public on Kyoto’s Social Contribution
Kyoto University is a national school, which means that it makes its contribution to society through academic achievement.  Kyoto University is renowned for basic science research.  In fact, basic science does not solve problems in reality; that is why it is sometimes misunderstood as useless and a waste of money.  It is important, then, to show the public how important this work is.  "We always inform the national community and international organizations of our academic achievements. By doing this, we have managed to gain public confidence and win international prizes at the same time”. The rationale behind this is: with public confidence in Kyoto University, financial donations from companies and individual citizens shall increase.

Kyoto University’s stated mission is to sustain and develop its historical commitment to academic freedom while simultaneously pursuing harmonious coexistence with the worldwide human and ecological community.  It seeks to integrate pure and applied research in the humanities, sciences and technology, and to educate outstanding and humane researchers and specialists who will contribute responsibly to the world’s human and ecological community.  Kyoto University’s own tradition of advocating academic freedom and harmonious coexistence makes itself unique.  In recent decades, the university has developed unique international research centers and an extensive international exchange program based on the notion of Academic Freedom. That is why Kyoto University is such a prestigious academic institution.

Kim na-eun reporter  better68@nate.com

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