IMF Survey : IMF-Japan Cooperation in Capacity Building Reaches 20-Year Mark

October 29, 2013

  • 20-year anniversary for program to help improve policymaking capacity in Asia
  • IMF staff participate in seminars and outreach as part of training
  • Over 600 program graduates with many alumni in high level positions

A Japanese-IMF scholarship program that has helped over 600 junior government officials from Asia to improve their policymaking skills celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year.

Students accepted to University of Tokyo, one of the four partnership universities for JISPA applicants (photo: Kenichiro Seki/Xinhua Press/Corbis)

Students accepted to University of Tokyo, one of the four partnership universities for JISPA applicants (photo: Kenichiro Seki/Xinhua Press/Corbis)


The Japan-IMF Scholarship Program for Asia (JISPA)—a capacity building initiative financed by the Japanese government and administered by the IMF’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (OAP)—was originally launched in 1993 to help formally planned economies transition to a market environment.

Since then, the program has graduated hundreds of alumni, many of whom have gone on to senior positions in their home country.

Eligibility for the program was expanded in 2009 and now junior officials from 24 countries in Asia as well as some Pacific Island countries can apply.

Graduate studies in Japan

The JISPA targets junior officials in ministries of finance, central banks, and other key economic agencies. Candidates must demonstrate the potential to contribute to policy making in their countries, and commit to serving in their home institution after their study in Japan.

About 35 scholarships are awarded annually for Masters studies at one of the four partnership universities—Hitotsubashi University, the International University of Japan (IUJ), the National Institute for Graduate Policy Studies (GRIPS), and the University of Tokyo—with a small number of Ph.D. applicants at any Japanese university.

“We are very proud that about 600 officials from 23 countries have been trained through the JISPA program over the last 20 years, some of whom are now in very senior positions,” said OAP’s Director Odd Per Brekk, at a reception held in Tokyo in October to welcome the batch of incoming JISPA scholars.

IMF involvement enhances JISPA

IMF involvement contributes to enhance the practical policymaking aspects of JISPA studies. “We routinely organize special policy seminars for JISPA scholars, delivered by the OAP or other IMF staff who transit through Tokyo en route to missions in Asia. Recent topics include labor market reform, financial sector issues, health spending reform, and capital flow management,” said OAP senior economist Giovanni Ganelli, who oversees JISPA operations.

“We also invite JISPA scholars to other capacity building and outreach events organized by OAP in Tokyo, and we liaise with the universities to make sure that their curricula reflect current policy issues,” he added.

The OAP also helps scholars with the practical aspects of living in Japan. Before the formal start of their courses, the JISPA scholars attend a two-and-a-half month orientation program at IUJ in Niigata prefecture, which provides some basic Japanese language and culture classes in addition to courses in academic English and mathematics and computational skills.

“The OAP staff conduct campus visits both during the orientation program and later in the academic year, to hear about any problems that the scholars might have and help solve them as far as possible” said OAP Programs Officer Saika Kin, who is in charge of JISPA’s day-to-day operations.

Alumni contribute to policymaking

Several JISPA alumni have reached very senior positions and are now having a significant impact in policymaking in their countries.

“During the course of my career, I found that the knowledge and tools for policymaking I gained, as well as the leadership skills I learnt from the JISPA contributed greatly to the demanding and multidisciplinary nature of policy work,” said the Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam Le Minh Hung, who graduated from the School of Policy Science of Saitama University (predecessor of GRIPS) in 1997.

Another JISPA alumnus, the Director-General of the Department of Financial Policy and Debt Management at the Ministry of Finance of Mongolia, Dorjkhand Togmid, who graduated from Hitotsubashi University in 2004, said “I am deeply grateful for the JISPA, which has made a huge contribution to my career in government. My student days in Japan were very enjoyable, full of new knowledge and experiences.”

Regional policy cooperation

Relationships built between students of the JISPA have also helped enhance policymaking throughout the region. “We all aim to make a strong and coherent network for JISPA alumni who will support each other in our dedication to our countries for the common prosperity of the region,” said Deputy Governor Hung.

His words were echoed in the speech delivered at the JISPA reception by Tatsuo Yamasaki, Director-General of the International Bureau at the Japanese Ministry of Finance, “I am sure that your studying and living experience here will create durable links between your countries and Japan, thus facilitating international policy cooperation which will benefit your countries as well as Japan” said Yamasaki.

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