Japan’s educational crisis

Nieuws | de redactie
28 november 2012 | Universities in Japan accept “almost anyone who applies, provided they have a pulse” states Gregory Clark. The general level of tertiary level education has dropped severely over the years and even the elite universities suffer the contagion. How can Japan find its way to the top?

Student numbers in Japan decline while the number of approved universities increases persistently. Almost hundred new universities have opened their doors in the last 10 years. At the same time, 45 percent of the private universities cannot fill the student number quotas set by the Ministry of Education. With their back against the wall, many universities accept  “almost anyone who applies, provided they have a pulse” states Gregory Clark, former president of Tama University.  But often it is not enough, some universities have already gone bankrupt, and more will follow.

To block or not to block

To stop this negative trend Education Minister Makiko Tanaka tried to cancel approvals given by her ministry bureaucrats for three institutions trying to rocket themselves to the ranks of full university. Now the Minister has apologized for trying this.

Even in Japan some argue that if there is demand for this kind of higher education, new universities that provide this kind of education should not be blocked. Clark states that “this would only make sense if, as in the US or Europe, universities can use tough curricula and exams to weed out unsuitable students. But that goes against Japan’s communalistic ethic and partly against the law”.

Prepare Japanese students for international top

More and more institutions now compete for students with the established four-year universities and add to the general decline in tertiary education. Even the elite universities suffer the contagion. On the other hand the average level of Japanese graduates is lagging behind compared to its neighbors. Japan is losing its grounds on international research through the lack of research and language skills.

Gregory Clark:  “Instead of simply adding to the army of second-rate universities in Japan trying to survive by further dumbing down the system, Japan’s education bureaucrats should be trying to focus on the specialized education needed to bring graduates up to top global levels. The recent emphasis on post-graduate studies here in Japan is not enough. Unless universities are drastically reformed it will simply add to the glut of unemployable Masters and PhD’s. Arming students with the linguistic and academic abilities for advanced study abroad, as with many of those Chinese and Korean students, should be the first priority.”


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