The Ethics and Politics of Educational Export

Online seminar “The ethics and politics of educational export: Japan and Finland in a comparative perspective” took place on 16th of February 2022, organized jointly by TRANSIT, Kyoto University (Global Education Office, Graduate School of Education) and EduKnow research group. This event attracted over 100 attendees from Finland, Japan and beyond. In this event, speakers comparatively and critically examined the cases of educational export from the Japanese and Finnish perspectives, aiming to understand the challenges and fruitful avenues of international collaboration in education.  

In the first presentation, Professor Taeko Okitsu (Otsuma Women’s University, Department of Communication and Culture) introduced EDU-Port Japan (hereafter EDU-Port), which is a public-private consortium launched in 2016 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), aiming to support both for-profit and non-profit entities to transfer ‘Japanese style of education’ overseas. Professor Okitsu explored the politics behind the establishment of EDU-Port and the policy contexts of the initiative involving various actors. Okitsu showed how a range of political and economic forces were at play leading up to the formation of EDU-Port. These included interests to internationalize Japanese education, enhance Japan’s soft power and international standing, and revitalize Japan’s economy, establishing a fruitful ground to the transnational borrowing of national educational export strategy. 

Acknowledging that EDU-Port is mostly dominated by economic interests of Japanese business and industries and geopolitical interests of the state, Professor Keita Takayama (Kyoto University, Global Education Office, Graduate School of Education) addressed the findings of the EDU-Port research project (2020–2021)* with a focus on the ethical questions of educational export to recognize and amplify the “hesitant” attitude of the Japanese educational export activities. Takayama demonstrated how some Japanese actors involved in EDU-Port see international educational development as a project of mutual learning, horizontal relations building, and self-reflection.  

Drawing on the normative theory of ethics in international development offered by Noriyuki Hashimoto (2019)**, among other literatures, Takayama discussed that EDU-Port could potentially offer an important approach to international educational development based on self-unlearning and self-transformation. On the other hand, he also pointed out that the ethical attitude promoted by and factored in the design of EDU-Port may not be fully reflected in practice. Takayama concluded the presentation with an argument that the role of researchers is to recognize “hesitation” in educational export activities and to unearth this “good” sense to release its full potential. 

In the second presentation “Education export in the Finnish higher education context: Principles and tensions”, postdoctoral research fellow Henna Juusola (Tampere University, TRANSIT) and doctoral researcher Kimmo Kuortti (Tampere University, EduKnow) first provided an overview of education export in the Finnish context, introducing its market-oriented nature, actors, and education export policies with a focus on higher education. They then explored potential tensions in the underlying principles of education export such as quality conventions as socio-cultural frames that steer activities. They also reflected on “Finnishness” in the Finnish educational export by examining how Finnish higher education institutions legitimate export activities, and the underlying conventions in the legitimation process (Juusola & Nokkala 2021***). Acknowledging that Finnishness is constantly negotiated and never fixed, they argue that Finnishness in the context of educational export is idealized. Finland’s good reputation in education is accompanied by other favorable images such as safety or clean environment.  

Finally, having critically analysed the market-oriented nature of educational export, Juusola and Kuortti called for a manyfold domestic debate on the topic that is currently lacking.   

Our FLINGA Wall is still open for post-conference discussion: Please drop your comments and thoughts and join our conversation!

by Oshie Nishimura-Sahi, Tampere 

* Takayama, K. et al. (2021). Final Report: EDU-Port Japan Project 2.0. Commissioned project by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT) to Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education (2020 – 2021). [In Japanese]

** Hashimoto, N. (2019). A Critical and Ethical Theory of International Educational Development: Beyond Cultural Imperialism and Neoliberalism. The Japanese Journal of Educational Research 86(4): 461-472. [In Japanese]

*** Juusola, H., & Nokkala, T. (2021). Legitimations of Finnish Education Export: Exploring the Plurality of Guiding Principles. European Journal of Higher Education, Early online.


Webinar recordings:

The webinar recordings are available on Kyoto University’s Online Course Ware (OCW) website.

The recording in English can be found here.

And the recording in Japanese can be found here.


When using the recordings for educational purposes, please follow the Kyoto University’s OCW user guidelines.

Open Course Ware (OCW) user Guidelines, Kyoto University:

ENG: Guidelines in English

JP: Guidelines in Japanese


Seminar materials:

Keita Takayama, Professor, Kyoto university, Graduate School of Education
“Excavating ‘good’ sense in EDU-Port. Towards ethics in international educational development”
see speaker’s materials here


Taeko Okitsu, Professor, Otsuma Women’s university, Department of Communication and Culture
“EDU-Port Japan: What is it and how it emerged”
see speaker’s materials here


Henna Juusola, Postdoctoral research fellow, Tampere University, Faculty of Management and Business / TRANSIT & Kimmo Kuortti, Doctoral researcher, Tampere University, Faculty of Education and Culture / EduKnow
“Education export in the Finnish higher education context: principles and tensions”
see speakers’ material here


Links to related literature:

Link to a popular article (in Finnish) in Suomen Kuvalehti based on the seminar and researcher interviews here.