About the University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo, established in 1877 as an imperial university, is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in Japan. The University of Tokyo is a large scale academic hub with 10 faculties and 15 graduate schools that are home to a total of 30,000 students, out of which 2,100 are international. It is one of the top schools selected for the MEXT’s Top Global University Project, indicating its role as an example of the competitiveness of Japanese higher education. 

university of tokyo, campus

The University of Tokyo has eight Nobel prize winners, fifteen Japanese prime ministers, and five astronauts among its alumni. 

Ranking of the University of Tokyo in the World

According to QS World University Ranking, the University of Tokyo stands as the 22nd in the world. It is ranked as the 1st in Japan, and the 13th in Asia. The breakdown of each criterion used in the ranking is as follows: 

  • Academic Reputation: 100
  • Employer Reputation: 99.1
  • Faculty Student: 93.3
  • Citations per Faculty: 67.9
  • International Faculty: 11.1
  • International Students: 26.2

What makes the undergraduate program at the University of Tokyo stand out from those of other universities in Japan is that it’s the only Japanese university with a system of two years of general education. This gives students the time to take liberal arts subjects before they choose their major. 

The campus has been designated as a “center of excellence” for three new areas of research by Japan’s Ministry of Education and Science.

In the Times Higher Education Ranking, an education magazine from the UK, the university stands at 36th worldwide in 2020. The organization’s rankings are based on the weighted scores of thirteen indicators within its five pillars: learning environment, research output, international outlook, research influence and industry income. In recent years, there has been a significant leap in the rankings of the University of Tokyo. According to the Japan Times, the reason behind the jump in the ranking of the university is the improvement in its learning environment (ranked 16th), research (ranked 19th), and industry income performance.

While the efforts to improve teaching quality and research output have been on the rise in Japan, it is still rather behind compared to its Asian counterparts. Besides the University of Tokyo, the only other Japanese university that places in the top 200 universities in the world is Kyoto University. Meanwhile, mainland China has 7 universities, the most famous of which are Tsinghua University and Peking University; South Korea has 6 universities, and Hong Kong has 5.

What Does the Trend Imply?

The increase in global rankings by Japanese universities shows the potential of higher education institutions in producing academic contributions to the world. However, there is still much room to grow. According to Phil Baty, THE’s editorial director of global rankings, if Japan wants to strengthen its status as a key competitive higher-education power both regionally and globally, it is necessary for Japan to focus more on the investment on internationalizing its universities. 

The improved rankings of elite Japanese universities, particularly the University of Tokyo, show the gradual success of the Global 30 Project launched by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of the Japanese government. The Global 30 Project receives funding from the government, and it aims to promote the internationalization of the academic environment of Japanese universities and the acceptance of excellent international students studying in Japan. Out of all universities in Japan, 13 core universities were selected and have been taking up different approaches to internationalize academic systems and campuses.

These efforts range from developing degree programs conducted in English and enriching international student support so that higher education in Japan will become more accessible to international students in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. In addition, the universities are expected to share educational resources with other partner universities worldwide, which can be jointly used by all Japanese universities, as well as establish their subsidiary offices abroad to further tighten the international collaboration.

What Can Be Improved in the Future

According to an article on the Japan Times, Japanese universities, especially the leading University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, have quite some missions to accomplish in order to lift their rankings even further. 

The first reason behind their lower rankings is that professors, faculty members, and researchers at Japanese universities write the vast majority of their research in Japanese, which is not accessible to the English audience. This lack of research publications in English makes the Japanese universities score very low in the criterion of citations, which accounts for 30% of the overall ranking judgment.

Studying for the JLPT N3 exam.

Second, there has been a very small number of Japanese students pursuing postgraduate studies at universities in the U.S., with merely 990 Japanese students in 2017. As many top-tier universities in the U.S are leading educational institutions, it is important to receive positive evaluations from these institutions to impact the global rankings of Japanese universities. 

Third, it is claimed that the Japanese government is falling behind in providing more fundings into education and research in higher education when compared to its national gross domestic product. On the other hand, its counterparts in Asia, namely China, South Korea and Singapore, have made great progress in this area. Researchers should also be provided with more means that can help them pursue their projects. Otherwise, they will shift to corporate jobs after graduation in order to make ends meet. 


The ranking of the University of Tokyo on a global stage can reveal a lot about the position of Japanese universities as a whole. It is apparent that more efforts and improvements are needed to make the University of Tokyo able to leverage its global standings and attract more recognition from the world.