Forging Partnerships for the Future: Exploring EU-Japan Dialogue on Education, Culture and Youth 

The third EU-Japan dialogue on Education, Culture and Sports held in Tokyo on 3 April 2024 follows the previous meetings held in Budapest in 2018 and by videoconference in 2021 during the pandemic. It demonstrates a continued commitment to cooperation and addressing challenges in the EU-Japan partnership. In response to the issues posed by the pandemic, the dialogues have particularly explored innovative strategies for higher education, including digital education and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI). These digital transformations offer promising avenues for the strengthening of sports diplomacy, fostering collaboration and deepening cultural exchanges.

Expectations and Milestones: Setting the stage

The third EU-Japan dialogue on education, culture and sport took place on 3 April 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. Co-chaired by European Commissioner Iliana Ivanova and the Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Masahito Moriyama, the dialogue mainly aimed to facilitate the exchange of educational approaches and policy strategies between the two partners. Initiated in 2018, the meetings of  2021, held virtually due to the pandemic, and 2024 gave priority to revitalising cultural, sporting and educational cooperation. 

In their discussions, they emphasised the need to improve the efficiency of digital learning and teachers’ digital abilities, while acknowledging the value of student-teacher engagement. The previous dialogues’ (of 2018 and 2021) aims were to reaffirm their joint commitment to continue collaboration and assistance in the various initiatives in place (such as Erasmus+), as well as to further promote researcher mobility. In the field of education, the progress gained through for example the EU-Japan Erasmus Mundus Masters in Robotics program emphasises the value of such people-to-people interactions. In addition, the continued cooperation and support through their respective education and  exchange programmes, as well as the attention placed on the mobility of researchers, demonstrate the strong partnership between Japan and Europe in the education sector. Related conversations promote collaboration in research, innovation, and cultural exchanges, resulting in innovative educational initiatives and worldwide experiences for students, researchers, and educators.

Both parties underline the importance of resuming cultural activities in the aftermath of the pandemic and strengthening partnerships in the sports sector. The 2018 and 2021 Dialogues specifically addressed preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games and the need for international cooperation in promoting sports competitions. Japan and Europe both reiterated their commitment to fostering the sports spirit and the relevance of sports diplomacy on a global scale. Sports diplomacy was also a central theme to the 2024 dialogue in the run up to the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

Overall, Japan has taken a similar approach to the European Commission in boosting sports diplomacy. As such, Japan’s ‘Sport for Tomorrow’ strategy aimed to promote sports to over 10 million individuals in 100 countries. The programme provided a better understanding of the nature, character, and scope of Japan’s commitment to sports diplomacy. The specific approach of this project was to develop several projects, such as supporting the creation of sports academies, contributing to sport at an international level through strategic bilateral partnerships, strengthening international anti-doping activities, developing participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games throughout the country, among other initiatives. Furthermore, Japan’s measured and repeated approach to hosting major events, such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, demonstrates the potential of sports as a tool for diplomacy and international cooperation, also between the EU and Japan. 

While the EU does not have a specific programme that directly aligns with Japan’s “Sport for Tomorrow” strategy, it has a number of initiatives and programmes linked to sport and international cooperation. For example, the EU has a specific project to promote and support the development of sport in Europe, addressing sports-related issues such as doping, match-fixing and violence.  

The specific aim of these dialogues is to strengthen international collaboration in the fields of education, sport, and culture. The 2024 debate focused on higher education policies, particularly in response to AI advancement, in order to promote the quality of education and inclusion. By adapting to changing environments and taking advantage of digital technologies, the EU and Japan envisage to improve the quality, accessibility, and inclusion of higher education. While digital solutions clearly offer great opportunities, obstacles remain, also with regard to the successful integration of for example foreign students. When international students participate in an exchange programme, as in the case of EU-Japan educational exchanges, they often face a number of challenges, notably in terms of language barriers, cultural and social differences, and adjusting to the academic environment. The EU-Japan dialogue therefore sought to improve educational collaboration via joint research and student exchanges (through Erasmus+), fostering mutual understanding and connections between people.

Given the significance of science and technology in promoting innovation and economic growth, both partners vowed to work together to further encourage partnership, enabling the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and resources. Current EU-Japan cooperation on researchers’ mobility demonstrates a sustained commitment to advance scientific and technical collaboration, contributing to increasing the research capacity of institutions and firms in both the EU and Japan. The April 2024 third dialogue highlighted the depth and scope of collaboration under the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. The topics of climate change and economic inequality were revisited, as well as the pledge to hold regular direct conversations to maintain collaboration and support high in the appropriate joint initiatives.

Reflections on the 3rd Dialogue

The third EU-Japan policy dialogue on education, culture, and sports recognised the value of mutual engagement in exchanging best practices, pedagogical approaches, policy development and innovation initiatives in these respective sectors.

In the field of education, as expected, both parties acknowledged the advantages of encouraging student and academic staff mobility. Over the previous three years, and particularly since the most recent dialogue in 2021, the EU’s Erasmus+ program has expanded mobility opportunities, accommodating around 1,750 higher education students and academic staff over the last three years. Europe remains a popular destination for Japanese students, accounting for more than 80% of Japanese outgoing student mobility. The dialogue has set the goal to increase student and academic staff mobility between the EU and Japan, as well as to strengthen international collaboration in the implementation of mobility initiatives like the Erasmus+ National Focal Points (ENFPs). For instance, the Japanese government aims to send 500,000 Japanese students abroad to foster internationalisation in higher education. 

Nevertheless, challenges persist (like the integration of AI and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) – notably in the sphere of education – but the two regions have agreed to address them by increasing their exchange of information, good practices, and innovative ideas. As a result of the EU-Japan 2024 dialogue, higher education institutions and exchange programs are encouraged to provide assistance and resources to foreign students in overcoming these challenges. This can include language assistance, cultural orientation programs, as well as enhanced access to housing and living resources. Both sides confirmed their commitment to continue the short-term staff exchange programme for MEXT and EU officials to promote peer learning and stimulate cooperation. These results are consistent with the objective of enhancing intercultural encounters in the links between the EU and Japan, while at the same time strengthening the strategic alliance.

Compared to the conclusions of the 2021 dialogue, the outcomes of the 2024 dialogue focused more on digitalisation and the responsible integration of generative artificial intelligence in educational settings to personalise learning experiences, and to improve academic performance. These projects enable students to effectively deal with the challenges of the digital age, such as ethical considerations, data and privacy concerns, as well as the need to improve digital skills and literacy among educators and learners

These outcomes demonstrate an ongoing commitment to strengthening collaboration in the field of education and to addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age. Especially as the implications of technological development for our societies (ethical considerations, data privacy concerns, etc.) are manifold.

The European Commission recognises the potential of digital technology to support diplomatic and foreign policy goals, as evidenced by Japan’s use of sports diplomacy to improve its image and foreign relations. Digital platforms and social media enable Japan’s sports competitions, athletes, and cultural activities to be spotlighted and to improve their general international profile. Furthermore, digital tools can provide virtual sports exchanges, online training opportunities, and interactive events, allowing Japan to engage with its international partners and foster mutual understanding through sports diplomacy. Digital platforms can serve to enhance communication, mutual understanding and cooperation between nations, enabling the virtual distribution of cultural heritage through online exhibitions and interactive experiences. As a result, digital technologies can break down physical boundaries, also between Japan and Europe.

The next and fourth Japan-EU dialogue on Education, Culture and Sport is expected to take place in Europe (likely in three years time), with a focus on principal themes like enhancing education cooperation or student and academic staff mobility. The dialogue between representatives of the European Commission and the Japanese government provides a unique opportunity for face-to-face discussions at the highest level to help deepen mutual understanding and foster stronger cooperation between the EU and Japan in these sometimes underexposed policy domains.

With the EU elections approaching, and the potential appointment of a new commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education, and youth under the incoming European Commission, offers the prospect of intensified collaboration with Japan in these areas. In follow-up to the 2024 dialogue, the new Commission will have to embark on tasks related to the promotion of student and academic staff mobility between the EU and Japan, the strengthening of international collaboration with Japan in the implementation of mobility programs, and the continued promotion of the opportunities offered under the Erasmus+ framework to Japanese and European students and academic staff. Given the growing usage of digital technology, the difficulties of generative artificial intelligence and the handling of sensitive data will remain important issues to address. Overall, as the dialogue seeks to strengthen information sharing, promote exchanges, and build long-term and successful educational, sports, and cultural projects between the EU and Japan, there is a wide range of untapped potential between these two like-minded partners that should be put to use in the future. 

Author: Rania Mrini, EIAS Junior Researcher

Photo credits: Pixabay