JIN-460 -- Higher Education

J@pan Inc Newsletter
The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 460 Wednesday April 9, 2008, Tokyo
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Japanese university students have a reputation for drinking
beer, playing golf and partying. However, in recent years,
their activities have come under closer scrutiny and a darker
side to student clubs have been exposed. In 2003, it was
revealed that a group of young men at one of Japan’s top
universities, Waseda, had set up a club called ‘Super Free’
that organized parties where women became victims of
premeditated gang rapes. Last year, the debate flared up
again when three students from Kyoto’s Doshisha University
rugby club were arrested for allegedly trying to kidnap and
molest a local woman as she walked home.

While such scandals have ultimately sparked more debate and
discussion over the problem of rape in Japan, they have also
contributed to the controversy over educational policy at the
university level. There is a dichotomy in Japan between the
image of students as lazy and carefree and the deeply ingrained
reverence that many Japanese people exhibit towards prestigious
universities (see also www.japaninc.com/node/3037). For example,
Waseda, whose students were criticized in one of the cases just
mentioned, was also the alma mater of 3 out of 10 of the last
prime ministers and is held by many to be the best private
university in Japan. Furthermore, in the Asian region, Japanese
universities are held in very high regard. Japan has over
120,000 foreign students studying at its universities,
two-thirds of whom are Chinese.

University education is the norm in Japan, although university
attendance rates are not as high as in Europe and the US. As of
the 2007 data, 97.7% of Japanese students complete high school,
and of that percentage, 51.2% go on to higher education
(university or some kind of community college), an all-time
high. Of the remainder, 16.8% go to vocational school, and
18.5% go on directly to find jobs.

When it comes to ranking, Japanese consumers are very insistent
to know the popularity ranking of the brands or products they
choose. The same goes for universities. Interestingly, a company
called Marunouchi Brand Forum have ranked universities according
to their ‘brand power.’ Based on a survey conducted amongst
prospective undergraduates and graduate employers. Their top
ten is as follows:

1. Tokyo University
2. Keio University
3. Waseda University
4. Kyoto Univeristy
5. Sophia University
6. Aoyama University
7. Tsukuba University
8. Ochanomizu Women’s University
9. Tokyo Institute of Technology
10. Tokyo University of the Arts

However, according to an article by Akiyoshi Yonezawa in the
journal Higher Education, outside of branding, ‘There is no well
established system for assessing the quality of education and
research at Japanese higher education institutions.’ And it is
the evaluation of research that will ultimately decided the
financial and academic future of the institutions. Resulting
from recent reforms, rankings produced by the National
Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evalutation
(NIAD-UE) are to be used to help determine the level of
government funding institutions will receive in an attempt to
increase quality and the global competitiveness of Japanese
universities. Over the next few years, they are drawing up
rankings focusing on the standard of research and, according
to Yonezawa, these will be instrumental in the allocation of
government subsidies.

In Japan, the private universities, including the prestigious
institutions of Waseda and Keio, manage to keep at the top of
the tables due to their private wealth, historical reputation
and superior teaching. National universities such as Tokyo and
Kyoto maintain their position through government subsidies,
strength in research and also by their own historical
credentials. This difference does occasionally lead to tension
and competition. Keio University has argued in the past that it
should receive more government funding while the national
universities struggle to compete internationally where the
growing trend is for universities to grow from private support.
According to Times Higher Education Top 200 Rankings 2007, Tokyo
University is the best of Japanese higher education
establishments at number 17 with Kyoto at 25; Waseda and Keio
rank at 180 and 161 respectively. Only Kyoto improved from 2006
while Keio dropped 41 places.

Peter Harris


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