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Universities aggressively promoting global education

  • 2015-11-04 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: November 4, 2015 – p. 19)


 As the international competition among universities intensifies today, Japanese institutes of higher education are showing a heightened commitment to global education. In a Nikkei survey of presidents of leading universities, more than 90% reported that they have study abroad programs and/or tie-ups with universities overseas. Many also offer classes instructed in English. The universities are accelerating the reform of their undergraduate faculties and graduate schools, but there is still deep-rooted objection to restructuring humanities and social science (HSS) programs as proposed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The debate on the role of universities and their response to changes in society will likely continue.


 MEXT has designated the development of globally minded human resources as a key pillar in university reform, and it is urging universities to revise their organizational structure and educational offerings. In the Nikkei questionnaire, “global education” ranked first, at 89.0%, as the academic field the individual universities planned to improve.


 When asked about current initiatives, 98.0% of university presidents responded they have “study abroad programs for Japanese students” while 99.3% said they have “tie-ups with universities overseas.” A total of 84.8% of universities offer “classes instructed in English.” In the 2016 academic year, Tokyo Institute of Technology will release English syllabi for all of its courses.


 “Accepting international students” was also high among universities’ current initiatives, at 90.1%. For students to be able to easily go back and forth between studying at Japanese and overseas universities, however, various adjustments need to be made, including coordinating the start date of the school year, which differs between Japan and other countries. Chiba University and the University of Tsukuba say they are prepared to handle this by dividing the school year into six segments. It looks likely that individual universities will come up with their own solutions to this issue.


 Returning to the question of the academic area the university wanted to improve, “liberal arts education” was second after global education, at 66.9%. The business community has often encouraged a liberal arts education. For example, a 2013 proposal by Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) urged universities to enhance their liberal arts programs.


 In the 2017 academic year, Rikkyo University will launch degree programs in “Western-style liberal arts education” where teaching methods meet international standards. This will support the university’s aim to develop globally minded human resources. Ochanomizu University has introduced a “21st century liberal arts education integrating the humanities and sciences” with the objective of developing human resources who have a cross-disciplinary viewpoint.


 Japanese universities have proven their caliber through the receipt of several Nobel Prizes in recent years; however, the education environment is becoming harsher, as globalization advances and the domestic birthrate declines. This makes reform, including organizational review, an important issue.


 A total of 46.1% of university presidents responded that they were “already reforming their undergraduate and graduate programs.” Many other universities reported that they were considering options and planning to implement reforms in the 2016–17 academic year.


 The survey of university presidents also looked at universities’ visions for their future. Universities were asked to indicate which of the seven functions defined by the Central Council for Education they intended to focus on and achieve by around 2020. The most popular response was “global center for studies and education” at 26.6%. A total of 41 universities selected this response, of which national universities numbered 20; private universities, 15; and public universities, 6.


 A total of 16.9% of universities chose “training of wide-ranging professionals” as their focus. “Training of highly specialized professionals” and “contributing to society (including community contribution and industry-university-government partnerships)” each were selected by 16.2% of universities, while 14.3% said “comprehensive liberal arts education” was their vision for the future. These statistics show how universities have diversified based on their unique characteristics and on characteristics of their locations.


 Japan has many postdocs who are unable to secure stable employment. A total of 59.7% of university presidents said that their university’s “number of postdocs has leveled off,” the response given most. A total of 7.8% said that their “number of postdocs has increased.” Universities who had given one of these two responses were asked if they were taking any steps to address the problem. A total of 52.9% said they “are taking measures.” If this figure is added to the percentage that indicated either “currently considering taking measures” or “will consider taking measures,” over 80% of universities showed an active stance toward resolving the postdoc situation. In terms of concrete measures, the most-oft-given responses were hiring as fixed-term researchers, calling upon corporations to hire them, and improving the university’s career services framework. (See graph following this article.)


 Over 60% of universities against the restructuring of the humanities and social sciences


 In June this year, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued a directive for national universities to reform their HSS and teacher training programs. Most universities, including private universities, have taken a negative view of the directive, saying that “organizational reform should be left up to the individual universities” and “the full spectrum of academic disciplines, including HSS, is needed.”


 In its June directive, MEXT told the national universities to “abolish undergraduate and graduate programs in HSS as well as in teacher training or actively endeavor to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.”


 National universities recently released drafts of their midterm objectives and plans for the third period (academic year 2016–21). In the draft reports, 26 of Japan’s 86 national universities indicated that they would revise their HSS offerings. In late October, a council of humanities department deans from 17 national universities, including mainly regional universities, submitted to MEXT a joint statement expressing their objection to the directive.


 When asked in the Nikkei survey for their views on the directive, some university presidents indicated a degree of acceptance: A national university in eastern Japan replied, “Japan needs to convert programs to serve areas that better meet society’s needs,” and a national university in western Japan responded, “We accept MEXT’s point that closed academic frameworks need to be restructured.” However, no university indicated “full support” of the MEXT directive and 13% of universities said they “generally support” it. Universities replying “opposed” or “generally opposed” totaled 66.9%.


 A national university in western Japan pointed out that “to create innovation requires education and research that are balanced in the humanities and sciences.” A private university in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area responded, “We are against the idea that it is the university’s mission to respond directly to society’s needs.”


 Kazuhiko Toyama, CEO of Industrial Growth Platform, Inc., has proposed the idea of dividing Japan’s universities into “G” universities that train globally minded human resources and “L” universities that serve as vocational schools. When asked about this concept, the focus of considerable debate, 67.5% of university presidents said that they were either “opposed” or “generally opposed.” A national university in eastern Japan responded, “Such a simple division of functions is not possible,” and a private university in western Japan said, “Our university engages in education and research based on the philosophy behind the founding of the school.” It looks likely that the debate will continue on the reform of HSS programs and the role of the university as they relate to both the needs of society and the true mission of the university.


 More than 78% of universities report that students sought advice on “owahara


 With the revision of job-hunting rules, owahara – prospective employers pressuring new recruits to give up job hunting in exchange for informal job offers – attracted much attention this year. A total of 78.6% of university presidents said that “students have asked for advice concerning owahara” vastly exceeding the 14.3% who responded that “no students have asked for advice on owahara.”


 These figures show that corporations are desperate to secure new recruits. If a prospective employee backs out on an informal offer, it lengthens the company’s recruiting work as they must search for a replacement. “More than in usual years, we saw corporations’ true colors in this year’s seller’s market,” say corporations.


 Corporations need to be cautious as the practice may be made illegal and could lead to a decline in public trust. (See graph following this article.)

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