The Center for German and European Studies (DESK) was originally established in October 2000 as an endowed professorship of “German and European Studies in Komaba” (Deutschland- und Europastudien in Komaba) in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Tokyo. Since then, DESK has trained numerous researchers and professionals in the field of European studies, and given many students the opportunity to conduct field research as well as to participate in seminars and workshops in Europe. We are especially proud of our two significant initiatives in graduate school education in Japan: the European Studies Program (ESP), which is the first program of its kind in Japan to award an MA in European Studies, and the Japanese-German International Joint Graduate School Program (Internationales Graduiertenkolleg; IGK), launched with the support of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) for PhD-level research and education.
I became involved in the activities of DESK around the time the endowed professorship “German and European Studies in Komaba” was reorganized as the Center for German and European Studies (DESK) in 2005. Many of the students who participated in ESP and IGK, newly established at that time, are today engaged in research and education at universities, while others are working in various sectors of society. Our graduates are a living testimony to the achievements of DESK, and are the driving force of our activities.
Our activities as a center of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences extend beyond the Komaba campus to strengthen collaboration with other university departments on the Hongo campus, including the Faculty of Law and the Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, as well as the Faculty and Graduate School of Economics. We are dedicated to enhancing this cooperation so that students and faculty throughout the University of Tokyo, who are involved in European studies, can pursue their research with meaningful outcomes. As globalization progresses and collaborations across borders increase, not only in the economic realm but in academic fields as well, DESK will need to play a proactive role in promoting international academic collaborations. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) started establishing and supporting German and European Studies Centers in prestigious North American universities such as Harvard and UC Berkeley in the late 1980s, with a total of 20 such centers located today at strategic academic institutions worldwide. In East Asia, following the lead of the University of Tokyo in Japan, there are now German and European Studies Centers at Peking University in China and Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea. DESK serves as a major hub for German and European studies within Japan, and as such we will be working to strengthen our ties with our sister institutions worldwide.
As Japan’s population shrinks and ages at the same time, there are fears that our country could lose its dynamism. In this situation, universities, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, are facing huge challenges. The excessive emphasis on the English language in Japan in the name of global leader development is also alarming, as it could hinder students from learning other languages and acquiring a deep understanding of the rest of the world. DESK, in cooperation with its counterparts in Asia and Europe, will continue to help broaden our perceptions, foster an understanding of Japan and the world within a global context, and develop the abilities needed to build our future.