In local regions including Okayama, it is crucial to cultivate human resources capable of assuming the role of responding to social changes in an appropriate fashion, creating new economic activities in local areas and supporting local revitalization. In other words, it is necessary to establish a self-governing and sustainable social innovation system in a local region, based on such human resources.
Geographically, Okayama Prefecture consists of urban areas including Okayama and Kurashiki cities, which have a population of 700,000 and 480,000 respectively, industrial districts along the coast, and rural agricultural regions and the hilly and mountainous areas in the north which are suffering from depopulation. Historically, on the other hand, a number of notable public figures have emerged from Okayama, such as Ogata Ko-an, an outstanding rangaku (Dutch learning) scholar, Magosaburo Ohara, a modern businessman / philanthropist, and Juji Ishii who was known as the “father of social welfare.” Okayama is also the birthplace of the “Saisei komon” (Welfare Advisory) committee system, which was a poverty prevention and relief system, setting a precedent for the current nationwide Welfare Commissioner System. With such an outstanding history and a culture of healthcare and welfare, Okayama has nurtured an environment suitable for promoting research and education that could contribute to the creation of values and systems that support a Japanese society in the future.
In Okayama University, the Graduate School of Natural Science and Technology was first reorganized in 2015 to add the Division of Medical Bioengineering, with the aim of promoting an educational research base for medicine-engineering collaboration. Designated as one of the target organizations under the “research university reinforcement and promotion project” by the national government, Okayama University Hospital, the Graduate School of Natural Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Medicine Dentistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and other departments of Okayama University, have been working on research and development (R&D) in various fields including the artificial retina, new materials, artificial muscle, nanobiotechnological drug discovery, nursing-care robots, information security and mobile communication. Additionally, the university hospital, named by the government as a “core clinical research hospital,” has formed a basis for promoting practical R&D and leading the accomplishments to clinical studies. Okayama University also has been selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as one of the financial beneficiaries under the national project “Support for the Creation of Super Global Universities” since academic year 2014, focusing on strengthening practical education on a global level and on the field of medical engineering.
The initial concept of this graduate school started in academic year 2013. After the establishment of the Division of Medical Bioengineering with the intention of offering cross-sectoral education across the boundaries of medicine and engineering, a new vision has been incorporated during the course of expanding its framework as a graduate school. This vision is based on the view that mere advancement of technological development will not necessarily result in the creation of products that are easily used by human beings, and we have to respond to the needs of society and attempt to produce easy-to-use things that are acceptable to many people, in order to develop scientific technologies that can be actually implemented in society. In order to cultivate graduate students who are able to comprehend and realize this vision, Okayama University decided that it would be necessary not only to have a medical engineering viewpoint, namely natural scientific views, but also to promote a perspective from humanities and social sciences, in which we see things based on issues arising from actual clinical settings and address fundamental pursuits of human beings, such as health and well-being.
Based on the view that it would be difficult to realize this vision only through a collaboration between a group of faculties or students who belong to separate existing graduate schools, a faculty organization has been formed at Okayama University to provide education through the integration of humanities and social sciences in addition to medicine-engineering collaboration, resulting in the inauguration of this graduate school in the academic year 2018. Major achievements are expected to be made through beneficial discussions and organic collaborative relationships, that are rarely observed until people with different specialty backgrounds, including faculties and students, share time and space with each other at a single graduate school.