What happens to a country if it grows old? This is a major
question for policymakers all over Europe. By 2050, it is estimated
that the median European citizen will be 52,3 years old by 2050. In
Japan, a similar trend can be observed. Within the last 20 years,
the number of Japanese 18 year olds decreased from 2 million to
currently around 1,2 million.
Lowering standards to counter aging
Beyond worries about rising costs of pension funds and the
health care system, this has had major consequences for the higher
education sector as the Japan Times reported. While fewer and fewer pupils graduate
from high schools, university enrolment numbers have continued to
fluctuate between 500.000 and 600.000 for the last 20 years.
Universities struggle to keep enrolment numbers high as tuition
fee paying students are essential to their funding. Especially
among medium and low level institutions this has led to a
significant decline in entrance requirements Kotaro Takahashi from
the Japanese Education and Science Ministry lamented. Universities
would simply lower their standards by either completely abandoning
selection schemes or limiting the scope of entrance tests.
When Mars and sun orbits the Earth
An interesting side note in this context is an experiment an
Astronomy professor of Tokai University conducted. Last year,
Mitsumi Fujishita tested 667 students in his undergraduate course
asking questions like "Which of the following - the sun, the moon
or Mars - orbits the Earth?" To his disbelief 46% of the quiz
participants answered either sun or Mars. To the question: "to
which direction does the sun set?" 22% answered "east".
"Japan's current educational environment is one in which high
school students who don't study can enter universities, and
university students who don't study can graduate. This is a global
rarity," commented Toshihiro Kawamoto, who has repeatedly talked in
Japanese media about this issue.
International talent to fill empty lecture
Simply accepting fewer students into universities would not
help, nevertheless. "For example, decreasing the number of medical
students will result in a shortage of doctors. Similarly,
decreasing the number of university students will result in a
shortage of skilled people. We should expand and educate students
instead of scaling things down."
Some observers believe that another way out would be to simply
attract more highly talented foreign students. In 2010, 140.000
international students attended Japanese universities. The
government aims to more than double this rate to 300.000 by