Ambassadors of good governance: Scholars from around the world study the many facets of economics in an immersive master’s program at the University of Tsukuba
Though an ocean apart, Singapore and Fiji face a similar dilemma: how to catalyze economic growth on limited land. Singapore has overcome this challenge by developing a highly educated and skilled workforce and creating an environment ripe for direct foreign investments worth more than US$800 billion.
For Reshmi Kumari, an economic planning officer for policy and international relations at Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture, undertaking the Masters’ Program in Economic and Public Policy in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Tsukuba offered an opportunity to study some of Singapore’s experiences in detail. “Singapore is a very good example for many small-island nations to learn from,” says Kumari, who recently visited the Asian city-state as part of the program components.
The Master’s Program in Economic and Public Policy has been offered for two decades, making it the university’s longest-running English-language degree program. It has been recognized as a ‘flagship’ for the university’s internationalization and was awarded the 2013 University President’s Award for its long-term commitment to globalization of the university and excellence in education. Established with funding from the Japanese government, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the program offers full scholarships to professionals from developing countries who aspire to take leading roles in the economic and social development of their regions.
About 15 students are selected every two years for the program, from an applicant pool of up to 170. Scholars can choose one of two tracks — economic policy or public policy — depending on whether they want to develop skills in quantitative analysis and econometrics or crave a broader, multidisciplinary approach to economics that includes social and political dimensions. Faculty members include Motoko Shuto, who specializes in the fields of politics and international relations in Southeast Asia and transnational labor migration in East Asia, and Mari Minowa, a former economist with the World Bank who specializes in the fields of development economics, social sector policies in developing countries and the economics of Latin America. Course professors draw from extensive academic as well as professional experience working in international organizations and have strong interests in education.
The cutting-edge expertise of the program’s professors combines with a high-level curriculum and extracurricular activities such as a domestic and international research trip to make the degree a rewarding postgraduate experience. Highlights include stipends to students who are accepted as interns in public and private institutes, as well as special seminars by distinguished guests. In 2014, one such speaker was the Nepalese ambassador to Japan who presented on Nepal–Japan relations.
“The program enabled me to gain a better knowledge of modern economic theories, upgrade my research skills, and understand how economists in other parts of the world deal with real-life economic challenges,” says Kumari, now in the last stretch of the course. For her thesis, she applied these newly acquired skills in empirical analysis to quantify the cost to Fiji’s sugarcane industry of insecure land tenure among farmers. She plans to return to her position at the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture to develop policies and advise on bilateral and multilateral agreements that benefit Fijian agriculture.
Vengai Mukwena from Zimbabwe is preoccupied with similarly ambitious plans. A customs officer at the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, he must balance the sometimes conflicting demands of facilitating trade, securing borders and enhancing migration. “As a public officer, I am going to lead by example by practicing all the tenets of good governance and by training my co-workers to work hard for the future of our economy and country,” he says.
Like Kumari, he found many of Singapore’s experiences to be applicable in his home country. He has much to share about Singapore’s wastewater recycling, cultural diversity and rapid economic rise, not to mention the extensive knowledge and skills gained while in Japan. “The University of Tsukuba, an excellent and internationally reputable institution, gave me a unique and apt learning experience that I will never forget and shall miss forever.”
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