What if one simple concept, such as implementing a wide-reaching scholarship fund for Japanese students to study overseas, actually became, in a sense, a sort of “Trojan horse” into the Japanese establishment, unearthing a whole slew of inefficiencies, barriers and problems to be solved in Japan’s government, education system and society?

There are at least three points to consider when establishing an effective scholarship fund. The first, I present this week.

1. Expand beyond existing programs
First of all, there is little point in simply recreating existing programs like the Mansfield fellowship (U.S. government employees only), Rhodes (Oxford University only), National Science Foundation (for researchers/scientists) and Fulbright (graduate students only) scholarships, in which elite students go overseas to do post-graduate research. Researchers are important, of course, but Japan also needs to nurture people who will become the next generation of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and international business leaders, as well as artists, writers, musicians and people who support such endeavors.

This point is very important. The program should catalyze cross-pollination and well-rounded experience in a global way. Existing programs send students to meet similar peers to reinforce their area of knowledge. With the Japanese the opposite is needed – their education is currently very focused, so giving them a chance to interact, to exchange ideas with people of different backgrounds, both culturally and educationally, so they can see things from different perspectives. If there was one main point to this new scholarship program, it is to provide opportunities for such cross-pollination. Therefore, the program should be open to students from all fields of study.

In addition, the institution to which the students were being sent would have to be carefully vetted. Sending large numbers of Japanese students to community colleges or ESL programs, where the temptation would be to get together with other Japanese students, would be counterproductive. The program’s organizers should check out the situation overseas and also “load balance” the target universities to avoid a situation in which the students all end up at one institution and spend all their time together.

Next week, I discuss scholarship organizations and what functions they should perform to be effective.

Your comments are always welcome.