FY2021 Graduate School Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2021)

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Nagahiro Minato, 27th President

Nagahiro Minato

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,274 new students enrolling in master's programs, 333 enrolling in professional degree programs, and 905 enrolling in doctoral programs. On behalf of former president, Dr Juichi Yamagiwa, the executive vice-presidents, deans, and directors who have joined us today, and all of the University's faculty and staff members, I congratulate each and every one of you on your enrollment at Kyoto University. I also extend my warmest congratulations to your families, and all those who have encouraged and supported you thus far.

Your enrollment in a master's or doctoral program at Kyoto University represents a new step towards mastery of your chosen field of specialization. The novel coronavirus pandemic shook the world last year, and it is still difficult to forecast how the situation will develop. Japan, like other countries around the world, has suffered due to the pandemic, and it has been necessary for many of us to lead a very restricted lifestyle. Despite these current challenges, all of you present today have completed a bachelor's degree program, or have put aside former vocations to enroll in a graduate program. I would like to express my respect for your commitment, and extend a heartfelt welcome to all of you.

Let us consider for a moment the characteristics of a graduate school, such as those in which you are enrolled. According to Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, "graduate schools in Japan are places of education that provide students with a systematic education, based on defined educational objectives and through programs of specified length and curricula, and that award those who have completed such programs with specified academic degrees". In a nutshell, they are "degree-granting education programs". The first university that founded a graduate school as a "degree-granting education program" was Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Professor Sekio Hada of Nihon University provided a detailed overview of this, based on Abraham Flexner's Flexner Report, a document which prompted a revolution in American medical education. It is well known that in the mid-19th century, Yale University became the first American university to confer a PhD degree. At that time, university degrees were extremely rare, and only 20 degrees or so were conferred in the United States each year. Having a degree was, therefore, extremely prestigious. It was in this environment that, in the late 19th century, Johns Hopkins University established its graduate school with a degree-granting program as its key feature, as a place for students to engage in advanced study after graduation from universities, which at the time were focused on liberal arts education.

The background to those developments in North America was the rapid advancement of science and technology that accompanied the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the mid-18th to 19th centuries, which gave rise to a trend, particularly in Germany, toward making scientific research a core function of universities. At that time, universities were primarily institutions for training professionals in specialized fields such as theology, medicine, and law, while scientific research was the domain of aristocrats with ample time and money. One of the best examples of these is Henry Cavendish, a descendant of the Duke of Devonshire and an aristocrat with great wealth. After studying at the University of Cambridge, he established a laboratory and workshop in his villa, where he conducted numerous experiments while having little contact with the outside world. During his lifetime, he presented only 18 papers to the Royal Society, but following his death, James Clerk Maxwell conducted detailed verification and reproductive experiments based on a vast trove of Cavendish's lab notebooks. What Maxwell found was that Cavendish, through extremely careful experimentation, had already proven many of the vital principles that form the basis of modern physics and chemistry. In 1871, the University of Cambridge established a laboratory in his honor with Maxwell as its director. The Cavendish Laboratory has since produced 29 Nobel laureates, the largest number from any single lab in the world.

In the meantime, with the founding of the University of Berlin in 1810, the Humboldt model of higher education, a research-driven education concept that integrates research and teaching, began to spread throughout universities in Germany. Johns Hopkins University was influenced by this model when it founded its graduate school, the first in the US, which has produced many outstanding graduates who went on to hold important positions in universities, research institutions, government, and the private sector. Inspired by the success of the Johns Hopkins University graduate school, other major American universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, proceeded to establish graduate schools one after another toward the end of the 19th century. By the 20th century, graduate schools in America were awarding a significant number of degrees each year. At that time, master's and doctoral degrees were not hierarchically related as they are today, but organized in parallel based on the individual practices of each university. Eventually, holders of these advanced degrees came to play a central role in the development of academic research and science and technology around the world. To summarize, German universities led the way in the 19th century, and then American graduate schools continued these developments in the 20th.

Kyoto University was established as Japan's second imperial university in 1897 — the late 19th century. It is well known that while Japan's first imperial university, the University of Tokyo, focused mainly on classroom lectures to train highly specialized graduates, Kyoto University sought to become a German-style university with research as its core mission. While there was already a degree system in Japan at that time, such degrees were not awarded by universities but rather by the Minister of Education, based on recommendations from imperial universities or doctoral associations in accordance with the Academic Degree Order. Naturally, such degrees were rare and highly prestigious. Following the reorganization of Japanese universities under the post-WWII education system, Japanese universities began to establish American-style, graduate-level "degree-granting education programs". Then in 1974, the Ministry of Education issued the Standards for the Establishment of Graduate Schools ordinance, since which time universities have produced many master's and doctoral graduates. To date, Kyoto University has awarded a total of 90,543 master's and 46,427 doctoral degrees, with many of these graduates having gone on to make remarkable achievements in diverse sectors of society.

All of you gathered here today are enrolled in graduate schools in diverse academic fields, and you are about to embark on your research endeavors. Since the 20th century, science and technology have progressed remarkably based on a strict principle of causality, and have contributed enormously to the development of humanity and society. However, the circumstances surrounding science and academia have changed dramatically. Take the recent novel coronavirus pandemic as an example. Although advanced medicine and bioscience have enabled researchers to identify the causative viruses, elucidate their infection mechanisms, establish diagnostic methods, and develop vaccines all at unprecedented speed, the virus itself has yet to be contained, having caused over 130 million infections and more than 2.7 million deaths as of the end of March, according to Johns Hopkins University.

This is largely because each country's decision-making process regarding the pandemic is complexly intertwined with numerous factors — history, lifestyle, culture, religion, and political and economic systems — making it impossible to develop clear guidelines based solely on science and technology. The same applies to global climate change, one of the most serious issues currently facing humanity. Scientific research has predicted that we will experience critical environmental changes due to an increase in the global average temperature. A number of new technologies are currently being developed to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is considered to be one of the main causes of the problem. However, no optimal solutions have yet been universally agreed upon regarding so-called "planetary boundaries", which represent essential requirements for the healthy survival of human society. Such global-scale issues are extremely complex and fraught with uncertainty, and a huge number of factors are involved in the decision-making. Such issues must therefore be addressed based on the concept of "post-normal science", as developed by Dr Jerome Ravetz and colleagues. Traditional approaches to the application of advanced and innovative sciences have limits when it comes to solving such issues. More comprehensive and innovative sciences are now required. For that reason, Dr Ravetz has described post-normal inquiry as "the sciences of safety, health, and environment, plus ethics".

Whichever academic field you choose to pursue, you will be required to have broader perspective and insight, in addition to a high degree of specialized knowledge and skills. Personally speaking, I have not actually experienced graduate school myself. As there was a specific area of research that I passionately wanted to pursue, I eagerly joined a laboratory at a university in the United States as soon as I graduated. I was lucky that my mentor at the lab allowed me to engage in the research that I wanted to. Since then, I have spent 40 years in research. Looking back on it, however, in return for taking the shortcut of skipping graduate school, I later had some difficulty acquiring a broad and fundamental knowledge and literacy in all aspects of science. As I said before, as the world is becoming increasingly complex, the methods of utilizing science and academic knowledge are changing dramatically. That is one reason that a graduate school education is becoming more important than ever for the next generation of researchers.

Having said that, academic research should be motivated by an individual's curiosity and desire to explore the unknown. It is not something that changes with the times, but something that is enjoyable and challenging to the individuals involved. Curiosity and the spirit of challenge are the driving forces in academic and scientific research. You must all be excited right now to embark on your new lives as researchers. I have had my fair share of difficulties and stress during my decades as a researcher, but at the end of the day, perhaps I can even say that I enjoyed them. So, I hope that all of you will also fully enjoy your lives as researchers here in the graduate schools of Kyoto University.

In closing, I offer once again my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you on your enrollment.