22 December 2008

Why English learning in Japan fails (summary so far)

Why English learning in Japan fails (summary so far of reasons 1-7)

This is a proposed ten-part series that the Japan HEO Blog hopes to fulfill by the end of 2008. In 2009 we would like to follow up with a look at some possible solutions to the issues the first series has raised. Before we finish off this series on "Why English learning fails in Japan", though, we would like to recapitulate the series so far. Each issue, from one to seven, is given a very brief summary below and links to the original article as archived at the Japan HEO Blog. Please see the original articles for more details and explanation of each issue.

Reason #1: Japan is linguistically and culturally self-sufficient--so most Japanese do not have a pressing need to learn or use English (English is a FOREIGN language).

Reason #2: Japanese is not closely related to English--so it takes longer for beginners to learn how to learn English.

Reason #3: Japanese is not written with an alphabet--this makes literacy for EFL a hindrance to learning the language.

Reason #4: Learning to read and write Japanese fluently takes away too much time from the rest of the curriculum, including EFL learning.

Reason #5: Lack of national consensus on foreign language education--most agree change is needed, but it is hard to get agreement on concrete steps.

Reason #6: The situation at universities--negative washback from entrance exams and the preparation for them at the senior highs.

Reason #7: The situation at universities--elite academics, non-elite students, mismatch of expectations, poor results with general education studies.

100 Best Lifehack Lists for Recent College Grads

100 Best Lifehack Lists for Recent College Grads

By Laura Milligan

Recent college graduates tend to be anxious and excited about the new adventures that face them, but even the most capable grads can have a hard time adjusting to moving across the country alone, dealing with rejection on the job front, and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle after school. To help them out, we've put together 100 lifehack lists that feature countless tips on staying fit, eating right, keeping track of a sensible budget and more.

See entire list of lifehack lists.

New issue of SLEID (free online journal about HE)

Vol. 5, No. 4 (2008) of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development has now been published online at http://sleid.cqu.edu.au/viewissue.php?id=18


OEDb's Online College Rankings 2008


OEDb's Online College Rankings 2008

excerpt/introduction to the rankings:
Online higher education is growing, but a lack of transparency is preventing it from reaching its full potential. Even though online colleges are now receiving increased respect from top employers, diploma mills and the like limit the prestige of a legitimate online degree. We think more transparency is a good thing; a set of objective, quantitative rankings — however imperfect — should help shed some light on the relative attractiveness of the most popular accredited online colleges.

See the list of ranked online institutions at the OEDb website:

Online Education Database (OEDb) and Online Rankings

The future of institutional and program accreditation and certification must encompass specialization, internationalization, and on-line delivery. For example, for better quality in distance learning degrees delivered largely over the internet, students needs better guarantees of the quality and validity of the content in terms of the academic or technical speciality, global standards and effective use of internet-driven communication technologies.

The Online Education Database (OEDb) focuses on accredited institutions and the programs and degrees they offer over the internet. These are mostly American universities and colleges, but at least some are attempting to educate people who do not reside in the US.

The OEDb will be listed at the Japan HEO Blog as a permanent entry under "HE and Japan HE Rankings, Directories, Listings, Databases, Etc." (on the left side of the blog's homepage) and watched for future developments.


Welcome to the Online Education Database. OEDb currently contains reviews of 1,082 programs from 87 accredited online colleges. Unlike other leading online education directories, our database only lists accredited online colleges so that you can be sure that these degrees will be respected by potential employers. Our database allows you to sort reviews by program, college, or degree level. Our library section will educate you on the basics of online universities.

Japan's universities bit hard by global bear

Japan's universities bit hard by global bear

While the US-UK investment bubbles were still percolating, many Japanese universities envied the way American universities invested their endowments in order to gain high returns. So some jumped into the heady world of financial investing and speculation, only to find that 1) it's not as easy as it looks and 2) they bet on a continued bull when the global bear markets emerged with a vengeance.

See these stories:


Japan’s Colleges Had 69 Billion Yen Paper Losses, Yomiuri Says

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s market turmoil led to 68.8 billion yen ($770 million) in unrealized investment losses at 18 private universities as of March 31 and the amount since then is probably much more, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.


Japan University Official Fired After Swap Losses, Asahi Says

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s Komazawa University fired a director yesterday after the institution reported a 15.4 billion yen ($172 million) loss from currency-swap trading, the Asahi newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.


Japan's `Ivy League' Schools Latest Victims of Financial Rout

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Japan's top universities are falling victim to the global financial crisis that has caused $964.6 billion in writedowns and losses at financial institutions.

26 November 2008

100 Free College Rankings (Traditional, Unorthodox and Just Plain Crazy)

100 Free College Rankings (Traditional, Unorthodox and Just Plain Crazy)

This blog offers an alternative and extensive look at how institutions of higher education in the US can be ranked.

Here is hoping for a global version. Imagine knowing which university worldwide has the most beautiful campus?

Excerpt below:

100 Free College Rankings (Traditional, Unorthodox and Just Plain Crazy)

Posted in College Lifestyle on Nov 24, 2008

By Laura Milligan

When you’re researching colleges, online schools and graduate universities, you’ve got a lot of choices to make. From academics to student-faculty ratios to the most diverse and even most attractive student bodies, which aspect of campus life is most important to you? Before you get too overwhelmed, take a look at our list of 100 different kinds of college rankings, from the traditional to rankings that measure demographics to ones that estimate your chances of striking it rich after graduation. Getting accepted is up to you.


18 November 2008

THES - QS University Rankings for 2008

The rankings for this year have been published and the entire rankings and a lot of useful information about the institutions that made the list can easily be accessed starting at the Rankings homepage:


Complete rankings:


Top 100:


Universities in Japan that made the global top 100 rankings:

19 University of TOKYO Japan
25 KYOTO University Japan
44 OSAKA University Japan
61 TOKYO Institute of Technology Japan

Top technology institutions:


Technology institutions in Japan that made the global technology top 100:

9 University of TOKYO Japan 67.4
21 TOKYO Institute of Technology Japan 57.0
22 KYOTO University Japan 56.8
49 OSAKA University Japan 42.3
98 TOHOKU University Japan 32.7

Summary of the results from a Japan higher education perspective.

Todai slipped back a bit. Perhaps Kyodai's rankings are too low considering its Nobel winners this year. Tokyo Institue of Technology continues to be a fast riser.

International Comparison of Academic Salaries: An Exploratory Study

The Boston College's Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) has announced the online publication of a report, "International Comparison of Academic Salaries: An Exploratory Study". Download the report at the link below (clicking on the link may open the pdf in your browser, which you can then save by selecting the save feature of the Adobe Reader plug-in, or you can download it as a pdf to your computer by 'right-clicking' mouse and selecting 'save link' or 'save link as'):


29 October 2008

Second follow up to 'Try free open-source run-anywhere software'

Open Office, a major but free software office/productivity suite, has released a new edition, version 3.

It is available for download, including in many different language and OS versions.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (or try previous editions such as 1.x and 2.x).




If you want to learn more about the new version, check out the information at the following site:


27 October 2008

Demographic Disaster for Higher Ed in Japan? Parts II-III

Demographic Disaster for Higher Ed in Japan? Parts II-III

by Charles Jannuzi, University of Fukui


In early September 2006, I gave a presentation at a conference in Langkawi, Malaysia. The conference, which focused mostly on educational management issues in higher education, was hosted by the South East Asian Association for Institutional Research (SEAAIR) and the Open University of Malaysia. My talk was titled, "Japan's Tertiary Education System: Developments in the Koizumi Era of Reform".

In the resulting paper (which was published in the proceedings of the conference), I attempted to sum up twenty years of university reform with the following:

Those two prior decades of changes in tertiary education leading
up to the creation of the
NUCs [Japan's 87 national universities
were re-chartered as 'national university
corporations' in 2003-4]
comprised many profound developments....:

-the establishment of a handful of new research universities and
institutes, decision-making
at which flows from a central

-the expansion of graduate program and their enrollments,
including American-style
professional schools of business,
law, and accounting;

-growth in doctoral and post-doctoral programs....

-a steady increase in the number of international students
hosted, to over 120,000 annually,
about 25% enrolled in
graduate schools;

-more public funding of the entire tertiary sector...with a
target of 1% of GDP;

-increased funding for research (including more basic
research) to compensate for its decline
in private industry...
with a target of 7-8% of annual national budgets, and a
national goal
approaching 3% of GDP for ALL scientific R&D
(with national government spending
accounting for 1% of GDP);

-legislative and regulatory changes that allowed the national
universities to tie up with other
entities to pursue research and
expand course offerings....

-parallel changes that allowed national university academics
to serve on the boards of NPOs
and for-profit corporations;

-internal and external systems of evaluation, independent of
national government

However, I also pessimistically concluded that Japan's tertiary education sector (four-year universities and two-year colleges) could soon face a student shortage and excess capacity, leading to serious issues (mainly, finances), which the reforms of the Koizumi era of Japanese politics (2000-6) had done nothing to fix.

The idea that many of the so-called solutions were not going to leave higher education in Japan up to meeting the upcoming challenges was based on the following two premises: (1) Many of the changes imposed on national and public universities and colleges were most likely ill-considered--even panicked--concessions made by the national government to the neo-liberal ideology popular in the media and with urban voters. As such, they reflected nothing more than a bankruptcy of realistic and effective alternatives on the role of government in the political economy and hence Japan had lurched into 'reform over-reach'. The reforms, including major ones to education and higher education, would do little to address the actual issues facing post-bubble Japan. (2) Because of drastic declines in the numbers of senior high graduates (from over 2 million in the early 1990s to just over 1 million now), universities and colleges would be unable to find enough students to maintain applications, admissions and enrollments at levels to keep hundreds of tertiary institutions financially viable.

So I made a projection in the conclusion of the SEAAIR conference paper that, in part, read:

[We] predict here that these reforms will not be sufficient to save
the tertiary sector in
Japan from crisis and partial collapse.
The demographic realities are harsh and
inescapable. There
simply will not be enough senior high graduates after the year
2010 to
support the over-built higher education sector.
Attempts at maintaining enrollments with
students (there are now over 120,000 studying in Japan)
will reach a peak
because of the language barriers, since
Japanese universities are incapable of providing
amounts of curriculum in English. An elite group of 50-100
institutions will
emerge, while hundreds of colleges and
universities will disappear-- either absorbed by
successful ones or completely gone from bankruptcy and
disestablishment. It is also
unlikely that the government
will reach its goal of thirty world-class institutions.
If even ten
institutions make lists of world rankings
by the year 2020, and if these institutions are not
limited to old imperial-national universities, these results will,
in historical
perspective, have been a major accomplishment.

The demographic issues

Analysts conjecture that the total population of Japan has stopped growing, peaking at just under 128 million. It has been reported that the total number of males has actually started to decline. Some total growth might still be possible because people, especially women, are living longer, and the number of long-term immigrants is actually growing (foreign nationals make up 1.5-2.3% of the population, depending on whom you count). Still, standard demographic indicators show that

-the birth rate is low (8.8 per 1000) and not much above the mortality rate (8.2 per 100),

-the fertility rate of 1.29 is low and going still lower, lower than Italy's.

Little wonder, then, that the population is predicted to decline to around 115 million by 2030 and 100 million by 2050.

In terms of the dominant capitalist ideology, the gravest effects of such a shrunken population would be decreased overall consumption and a labor shortage, leading to higher wage costs and lower profitability in producing goods and services. According to this scheme of things (barring mass immigration to Japan), capital's profitability would have to fall UNLESS the demographic decline were offset by concurrent increases in labor productivity and per capita consumption (hence the current obsessions over these concepts).

The most obvious solution is to move labor-intensive manufacturing and services to developing countries, where labor's productivity can be bought at a fraction of the cost in an OECD country--and where currency exchange rates are additionally favorable to profitability (even subject to unprecedented manipulation with institutional investment's speculation). The biggest problem for manufacturers with this 'off shoring' solution is that profits are often reduced due to exchange rate volatility, since even huge global companies have a difficult time manipulating the fiscal and monetary policies of other countries--and the counter-bets of other speculators. Also, managing complex operations across different cultures and political boundaries can prove to be fraught with unexpected difficulties and end up being a very expensive proposition for capital.

However, if we keep the current finance capitalism of US, UK, EU, Japan and East Asia in mind, we alternatively might predict capital's shift to still yet higher levels of leveraged speculation in any financial market it has access to in order to make up for the costly and potentially unprofitable production of goods and services--that is, if the current US's bubbles can be sustained much longer by infusions of government liquidity, government bailouts, nationalizations, direct subsidy (such as military Keynesianism), and the recycling of surplus dollars back into American financial markets from most of the US's major trade partners in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. (Note: this was drafted early this year, before so many leveraged speculative financial positions came unraveled in August-September.)

A second long-term negative effect to Japan's demographic decline, according to capitalism's actuarial 'science', would be a smaller tax base for governments, which most likely would be used to justify higher fees for and lower benefits from health insurance and social security pensions. A shrinking, aging population might also be used to justify drastic cuts in all social entitlements, especially if such cuts could help lower corporate taxes. At the same time, spending on Japan's high-tech-dependent but relatively small military (in terms of full-time, careerist personnel) might be increased in order to make hardware and firepower compensate for personnel shortages among the enlisted ranks. Furthermore, more money spent on the military would help appease the fiscally overdrawn US, whose extensive and hugely expensive 'security arrangements' for E. Asia dominate the 'special' bilateral relationship. The US's goal is to get Japan and S. Korea to pay for more and more of US military deployments in the region in order to maintain its 'hard' superpower status.

The demographic issues impacting higher education

Most importantly for anticipating the impact of demographic trends on higher education is the small and decreasing size of cohorts of 18-year olds. This group now at 1.2 million is roughly half of what it was 15 years ago,but it is set for further gradual declines every year for the next decade or more, although much less drastic than the annual decreases in size from 1993-present. To be more specific, the cohort of most significance for higher education admissions is the slightly smaller group of senior high school graduates (around 1.1 million, school attendance beyond junior high is not compulsory but certainly the social norm). This population of senior high graduates is the one from which tertiary institutions must attract most of their 700,000+ intake of first-year undergraduate students.

Senior high graduates as a cohort also make up the demographic group from which the private sector hopes to employ 150,000 - 200,000 full-time, without further formal higher education (though company training for inductees in Japan is intensive). Such close margins worry the administrators of universities and colleges because continuation rates from secondary to the tertiary level have remained at around 50% instead of rising to the hoped-for 65-70%. This disappointingly low and flat continuation rate has been mitigated somewhat by more and more young women choosing to do four-year degrees instead of the traditional two-year associate degrees awarded at junior colleges. Continuance in the higher education sector has also been given a boost by the establishment of 'mass participation', non-elite graduate schools nationwide; the continuation rate to graduate level is now over 12% and some growth is still possible (especially with the influx of foreign students).

In addition to worried administrations and admissions offices at tertiary institutions, profit-conscious companies fret over a tight job market or a disastrous shortage of applicants for full-time employment amongst the youngest workers (18-20 year olds). This is especially true of blue-collar manufacturing and construction. A lack of an excess of senior high leavers going directly into the national job market, could drive up wages across blue collar career structures. And Higher starting wages might create demands for higher wages at all levels of seniority, thereby cutting still yet further into the amount of profits that can flow into ownership's dividends and management's non-salary remuneration (such as variable bonuses or stock options).

Demographic cause to economic effect?

After decades of recording high annual economic growth, the past decade and a half has made Japan look like the G-7's and OECD's 'basket case'. The country's sense of crisis over this economic 'flat-lining' has often been explained as a result of the country losing its economic 'competitiveness' vis-a-vis the supposedly more dynamic, innovative, traits of American capitalism, its NAFTA trade bloc, and its 'post-industrial' workforce (e.g., part-time, temporary, non-manufacturing, lacking health care and retirement plans, etc). Neo-liberal reform agendas in Japan in answer to that sense of national crisis have been focused exclusively on expanding privatization and deregulation of the political economy, including, quite prominently, the national and public university systems.

The free-market neo-liberals and trilateralists argued that the liberalization and deregulation carried out during the 1980s had not actually created Japan's bubble economy, but, rather, had been an example of 'too little too late'. So they persuaded legislators and bureaucrats that the lengthy recession of 1993-present was Japan's last chance to restructure in order to compete, not only with the US, NAFTA, and a coalescing EU, but also with the rapidly growing and industrializing SE Asian 'Tigers' (e.g., Thailand and Malaysia) and China. So the neoliberal and free-market ideology of deregulation, privatization and liberalization, instead of being blamed for causing Japan's economic bubble of the late 1980s, was successfully advanced as a 'progressive' political agenda that would somehow save the country in the bubble's inevitable aftermath.

Unfortunately, deregulation, privatization, and liberalization have done nothing to counter the actual everyday problems that continue to deflate and depress the economy. These real issues would include:

-low interest rates on household savings, which suppress spending,
especially amongst the self-employed and retirees, who deplete their
savings just to get by,

-lowered benefits and higher contributions for both public and
private pensions,

-less coverage and higher fees for public health insurance schemes,

-an overvalued yen, which feeds deflation and cuts profits on
value-added exports,

-US-imposed unilateral trade quotas, restrictions, and exclusions
(on everything from agricultural commodities to computer processor
chips and operating systems),

-and an ongoing speculative financial bubble centered in the US,
which attracts short-term, volatile investments from Japan--
because the US's dollar deficits are E. Asia's dollar surpluses,
and these dollars are recycled on the hope of ever higher returns,

-increases in regressive consumption tax, from 3% to the current 5%.

The constant othering of Japan

Western coverage of Japan in the 1980s tended to emphasize the country as an alternative model for the adversarial trinity of relations across ownership-management-workers. The supposedly better aspects of the Japanese 'approach', although never universally specified in American business journalism, were used to explain the demonstrably superior quality of Japanese manufacturing, especially in automobiles and consumer electronics. It is doubtful that postwar corporate Japan's entrenched practices of male life-long, full-time employment or promotion based on seniority were seen as useful innovations by corporate America.

It seems more likely, though, that the idea of weak, accommodating company unions had great appeal to, for example, American automobile and parts manufacturers. And much of the reported high rate of profits at Japanese companies in the 1980s can be attributed to two causes: One, trade quotas (combined with a relatively weak yen) on much of Japanese manufactured goods helped keep them in short but over-priced supply in the lucrative North American market. Two, as Japan's economic bubble inflated and stock prices rose high and fast, companies reported more than just healthy profits, more than even a rise in profits, but rather they could boast an accelerated growth in profits that, like a sigmoid growth of bacteria in a test-tube, grew with greater intensity until the bubble burst around 1992.

Still, it might be argued that much of the outside world's admiration for Japan's economic prowess during the 1980s was a notably positive development in foreign perceptions of Japan and Asia. On the other hand, it proved a short-lived and still unrealistic form of othering Japan.

More stereotypical (what many in the west call 'critical') perceptions of Japan--regardless of the causes and significance of Japan's economic tumble in the early 1990s--were very quickly combined with nationalist economic agendas in the Anglophone countries and W. Europe to produce a pervasively negative view of Japan. By the end of the 1980s, Japan had come to be presented in the western media as an Asian development state gone off the deep-end. Japan was depicted in books, films and TV reports as some sort of bureaucratic, mercantilist, rogue out land sinisterly bent on economic domination of the world. This apparently was a belief held by many in the Clinton regimes. In the name of 'bilateral relations', its trade representatives would often attempt to force aggressive unilateral trade and monetary re-arrangements on Japan even after an overvalued yen and strangulating high interest rates had brought economic growth to a standstill.

Japan's real estate and stock bubbles of the 1980s and early 1990s burst after the government raised interest rates and severely tightened credit. Then the economy stagnated for over a decade. Annual growth from 1993-2004 was low, zero or even negative year after year, with the exception of the years 1996-7. Interestingly enough, during the time of the so-called Asia Crisis, Japan saw growth in GDP of over 2.5%.

Japan's economy during the period of 1993-present can be characterized largely by very low interest rates, low (or even negative) economic growth, and price deflation of consumer goods, the last of which seemed to have the biggest impact on company profits. When an economy becomes deflationary at the consumer level, capital loses much of its pricing power, which, as Japan of the 1990s shows, hits profits drastically.

The lack of even moderate inflation in the economy would seem to be a result of a combination of a typically strong yen (but with great exchange rate volatility) and, until George W. Bush took office, cheap oil. Paradoxically, because of this extended period of economic malaise and the social and political self-criticism that resulted from it, Japan came to be seen in the western media as a hapless, hidebound nation of political deadlock and managerial ineptitude, collectively unable and unwilling to change even when it was supposed to be on the verge of contraction and even depression.

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that news stories on Japan in the Anglophone world (excluding the required but little-read coverage of party and parliamentary politics) now fall into three general categories: (1) Japan as an ancient, inscrutable, exotic culture beyond 'rational' (=western) comprehension; (2) Japan as a very strange even ridiculously funny country that copies the 'west'; and (3) Japan as a static nation on the verge of some sort of economic and societal collapse, culturally unable to deal with globalization.

Othering Japan's higher education, too

The so-called demographic crisis facing Japan gets a lot of press in the country as well as outside, most importantly in the news media of English-speaking and European countries, who tend to latch on and perpetuate any negative trends in stories about Japan. Some causally link the gloomy outlook over the predicted contraction of population with the long-running crises over the political economy. Analysts and opinion-makers in the west look at the ongoing economic troubles of Japan and conclude that the country lacks the dynamism required to adapt to changes in the world economy precisely because of the demographic factors, such as an aging population, workforce, and even a pessimistic outlook (which is supposed to dampen the desire to have families).

Although there is an extremely limited market for English-language news analysis on most aspects of Japan, this is especially true of coverage of the country's enormous higher education sector of over 1200 of four-year universities and two-year colleges. For one thing, most people in the US, UK, Canada and Australia would automatically assume that their own country's universities and colleges are superior to any Asian country. After all, Asia is a major export market for services in higher education. Also, there is very little exchange of professors and advanced researchers between the US and Japan, the two countries with the world's most developed higher education sector. Advanced degree holders from the US working at a university or college in Japan almost invariably fit one or more of the following three categories: 1) teaching EFL, 2) teaching a basic curriculum subject in English, 3) doing post-doctoral or contractual scientific research. Therefore, there is not much interest in Japan's higher education system amongst academics in the United States (or the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, for that matter)--except for jobs in TEFL and perhaps Japanese language study. Still, what coverage there is proves no exception to the more general pattern of western journalism depicting Japan as dysfunctional, disastrous and on its way down.

The few stories that have appeared in the most influential newspapers are, just as you might expect, negative in tone and content, making ominous predictions about enrollments and finances because the results of Japan's perennially low birth rates are now manifesting themselves in the demographics of college-age people.

In March 2006 a Financial Times article pointed out that, unlike American institutions, Japanese universities lacked large endowments (which also limits their ability to issue bonds) and lucrative investment strategies, with their money tied up in low-yielding, low-risk instruments, such as certificates of deposit, discount debentures, and national government bonds.

A New York Times article (which also ran in the International Herald Tribune) in mid-2007, in part, read:

...[T]he prospect of universities fighting to win students has prompted
a national
hand-wringing about the future of Japanese higher education.
Since the nation's first
modern university, the University of Tokyo,
was founded in 1877, Japanese universities and
their famously grueling
entrance exams have served as the society's main mechanism
sorting its youth, tracking the brightest into top business
and government jobs. Many fear
that this mechanism could be
impaired if universities lower their entrance standards to get

more students.

Admission to the twenty or so most elite universities (both national and private) has always been extremely selective because of the sheer number of applicants exceeding the relatively small number of slots for first-year undergraduate students. So it is not really plausible to think that this is Japan's "main mechanism for sorting its youth." On the other hand, the main criteria for entrance into lower-ranked universities might depend more on getting an average score in several important subjects on the 'Center Exam', which is a standardized test similar to the ACT in the US. National hand-wringing related to demographic issues is more likely to be about empty elementary schools in both rural and urban districts, a shortage of construction workers or hospital nurses, or the high cost of health insurance and medical care for the elderly. Also, for most students, it is not university entrance exams that serve as the main "sorting mechanism", but rather a combination of household incomes (since private schools are very expensive) and tested academic achievement as determined by the third year of junior high school.

About six months later the UK's top 'liberal' newspaper, the Guardian, followed with an article about the very same topic--the coming demographic crisis of higher education in Japan. Its opening and some of its later content read very much like the NYT piece; it even seemed to be a close paraphrase of the NYT/IHT article in places.

The Guardian piece did veer away from having only the same content and line of analysis as the NYT article in two ways. First, it gloated that the UK's tertiary sector could never suffer the same sort of demographic difficulties. What the Guardian article did not mention, though, was just how dependent higher education in the UK is on making hefty profits from 'exports' (i.e., international enrollments) in order to help maintain institutional finances, especially for programs that the government does not fund sufficiently. Second, it cited a 'Japan expert' on the coming demographic crisis, Oxford University anthropologist, Roger Goodman. The following is an excerpt:

Goodman reveals that 30% of four-year private universities had
failed to fill their student quota in 2004. The figure was 40% for
two-year universities. And this when the real demographic drop
has not yet kicked in....The Japanese government is quite happy to let
the market decide how the system is "hollowed out", says Goodman.
"It has no intention of baling these universities out.

Some in the national government--as well as admissions offices at the upper middle- and high-ranked universities--might welcome a major downsizing of the university sector, a cull of 200-300 of the financially and academically weakest institutions. But in an era of near-open admissions and the still-expanding massification of tertiary education, there may be problems with arguments for Social Darwinism and a survival of the 'fittest'.

First, university and college administrations in charge of institutions which have already been in operation for decades are simply not going to yield to the idea of ceasing operations just because some people think it might be best for the entire tertiary sector to have less competition. Rather it should be expected that they will do everything they can to maintain their existence.

Second, often it is the institutions without a long history from before WW II (and the prestige that comes with it) that create innovative courses of study. It is not that their academic standards are weak, but rather they lack the endowment and reputation to assure their survival when the government cuts subsidies.

In the early 1990s, when senior high populations had already peaked, policy makers even said that if the total of universities went from around 600 to 300-400 it would help assure the overall health of the tertiary sector. However, other dynamics were at work, not just the warnings and wishes of analysts, experts, bureaucrats and administrators of high-ranked universities. Instead of the higher education sector being reduced by 40-50% to match the demographics, the sector actually expanded during the 1990s to the present.

One wild card has been the major shift of two-year colleges (which had been mostly junior colleges for women) into four-year co-educational schools. This made sense from their perspective on survival because it greatly expanded their potential applicant pool and doubled their overall enrollment. Students attended for four years, not two, and both men and women could apply. Whether by accident or design, the result has been an unprecedented feminization of universities in Japan, as more and more young women graduating from high school choose four-year and even graduate-level studies instead of the traditional two-year degrees.

Still yet another factor working against a contraction of tertiary education has been local governments, especially in the more remote regions of Japan. While the national government might embrace laissez-faire policies to appease politicians, big business, and urban voters, local and prefectural governments, for economic and social reasons, will often do anything they can to keep a institution in their jurisdiction.

Oxford University's resident 'Japan expert', Prof. Goodman, pops up again in text bites in a widely syndicated Kyodo News Service article that appeared in February this year, not long after the Guardian piece. According to the Kyodo article, Goodman wrote:

"The Japanese higher education system is facing a contraction,
possibly better described as an implosion, of a type not previously
ever seen before."

It also attributes to Goodman the following:

In a rather pessimistic outlook, he said, "There is little evidence that
the vast majority of the lower-level, private four-year universities
will be able to rise to meet the demographic challenges that currently
face them...."The government has made it clear that, as with many banks,
it has no intention of bailing them out."

On the contrary, local and prefectural governments have scrambled to keep struggling regional institutions operating. It might be worth pointing out that if the Japan's national government subsidized higher education with even a quarter of what it put into managing large bank bail outs, consolidations, and sweetheart takeover deals for private equity groups like it did during the last financial crisis, Japan's many universities and colleges would be more than able to meet the demographic and financial challenges of the next decade.

Goodman goes on to give some of the usual stereotypes about higher education in Japan. These are worth looking at as typical examples of how experts on Japan make begging the question their stock and trade. For example:

"We are...likely to see a vigorous and open discussion about what
is the role of higher education in Japan, and a serious challenge
to the notion that it is primarily a site for social rather than intellectual
or vocational development," he noted.

This is an often-repeated claim made about higher education in Japan. One version of the claim says that Japanese students study very hard during senior high school and then use the four (or more years, now that graduate school is popular) of university to take a break from hard work, before they become workaholic careerists for Japan, Inc. This is begging the question because we are supposed to assume that at least two very questionable assumptions are true before we even discuss what the roles of higher education in Japan actually are (i.e., that university students in Japan do not study, that Japanese universities, desperate for students, have forsaken academic standards and vocational utility so their students can socialize and become conformists ready for life in corporate Japan).

Another commonly begged question is the assumption (Goodman himself makes it) that most university graduates go on to become employees for life at one company. This simply isn't the case anymore for millions of people in their twenties and thirties. Every year, amongst those in their twenties, one in four changes their job. Many in this age group (both young men and women) change companies several times before deciding on a career path. A large and still growing number juggle temporary work, freelancing, self-employment and various part-time jobs in Japan's 'post-industrial' metropolitan economies--huge conurbations like Tokyo-Yokohama, Nagoya-Gifu City, and Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe, which account for nearly half of Japan's total population.

Stereotypical assumptions--such as, Japan's universities are playgrounds, or most Japanese have lifelong employment at one company--lead to weak and even wrong analysis of higher education here for at least several reasons. For one thing, it would be impossible to show any mass higher education system in the developed world where 'social development' was not a major focus, even if one did not embrace social constructivist approaches to education.

Also, during the past 30 years, Japan's universities seem to have made a confusing and still unfinished transition from being a fairly elite, highly selective, partially meritocratic system to being a 'massified' one. That is something of a simplification itself, since the old system clearly favored students of higher socio-economic class. Having a dependent attend academic senior high schools, juku (cram schools) and yobiko (university prep schools) costs households thousands of dollars a year. Still, under the elite system, there was limited access for a relatively select number of senior high graduates who had already demonstrated high achievement in maths, sciences, and native language literacy before they entered university.

All that has changed drastically. Wave after wave of massification of the tertiary sector since the 1970s has created an unprecedented number of teaching and research posts for academics and scientists of elite background. These personnel still educate and train the high-level students that enter their universities and programs; many of their students go on to become civil servants, high school teachers, researchers, and even university faculty. The problem is that far too many teaching at the universities have not been prepared for or responded to the teaching requirements of a mass access system, which admits hundreds of thousands of students who do not have high academic achievement at the senior high level and do not have the same career aspirations as their teachers had.

Goodman makes some suggestions for higher education in Japan to avoid their impending demise. He argues that

...struggling Japanese universities should look to alternative
sources of income by undertaking more research projects and
raising endowments. One way of attracting more students,
Goodman said, is to conduct more lectures in English and
employ more foreign staff.

These suggestions do not seem to be made with strong reasons backing them up. Most private universities and colleges in Japan (of the sort for whom Goodman predicts disaster) are limited to teaching and do little research, unless they had been founded as private institutes of technology after the war. The bulk of public funds for research in science and technology goes to a handful of the top former national universities. Unsurprisingly, it is the same institutions that successfully compete to attract private funds for cooperative research and joint ventures in commercializing new technologies. Outside of graduate level courses, which admit a high percentage of international students, lectures conducted in English will have little appeal to students who have a limited ability in the language. This is true not only of Japanese students but Asian ones from China, S. Korea, and Taiwan, who comprise the vast majority of internationals now studying here.

Based on average TOEFL and TOEIC scores, it can be concluded that the vast majority of university students in Japan could not function in an English-language learning environment, not even for one taught course. English-language content programs are at best a narrow niche market, the demand for which is met by a small selection of courses at universities--typically in faculties of science. The Japanese students who go abroad to learn EFL and experience firsthand another culture do so for relatively short periods; they would have little or no interest in doing this in Japan.

With the exception of a new for-profit distance learning university, private universities and colleges in Japan are chartered and organized as a type of non-profit business. This does not mean that they can not have a surplus of income over expenditure, but there are no shareholders entitled to dividends and owners' equity. Some private institutions are turning to income-generating business operations, such as conference facilities, hotels with hot springs, health services, specialized consulting, and joint ventures with private enterprise.

If there is one sector of education in Japan that can avoid the devastation of the demographics, it is higher education. This is because it enjoys much greater administrative freedom to develop diversified business plans.

Higher education is the one level of schooling that is not locked into a very specific age group or cohort for its enrollment. In any given year there is a population of ronin (literally, master-less samurai) who will at great expense take one or more years off from the rest of life to devote themselves to taking and passing the entrance exams of the highest-ranked, most selective elite universities (with University of Tokyo being the ultimate goal). The number of ronin annually approaches the size of the entire intake of all universities in Japan, exceeding 500,000. Moreover, there are close to one million NEETs (young people Not in Employment, Education or Training).

One reason why so many young people (18-35) do not continue their education is that the cheaper national and public universities do not accept them, but they can not afford the greater expense of a private one. Due to a relatively low level of public subsidy, private universities on average charge around 8000 USD in annual tuition, about 45% higher than the former national universities (which also hiked their tuition by 10% after denationalization in 2004). It costs about 20,000 USD a year to attend a university. Even if NEETs or their parents manage to cover such costs, many doubt that a university degree from a low-ranking institution could ever result in a large enough rise in future income to justify the time and expense.

Conclusion: The future is still contingent

The next decade is sure to be a challenging one for universities and colleges in Japan. While it seems fairly easy to look at some of the facts and make a disastrous projection, it may also be the case that there is some exaggeration in the alarmist prose of Anglophone academics and journalists. If Japan's huge higher education sector contracts by 15% (the lower end of Goodman's prediction), that would hardly amount to an 'implosion', which is a term that evokes the image of some sort of explosive compression or of an edifice falling in on itself. In 2000 I predicted some sort of 'collapse' of two-year colleges because more and more young women were choosing four-year universities instead. Rather than a collapse, I watched as hundreds of institutions transitioned into four-year co-educational ones, many with innovative courses of study that have so far been successful in drawing students.

I predict that the higher education sector has another decade to become something other than what it now is, which admittedly is over-built but undifferentiated for learners. Much of the system's current malaise is that it is run with an elite set of attitudes, expectations and practices while the socio-economic reality is that university-level education has largely replaced the senior high diploma as the minimum for entry into the workplace of post-industrial capitalism. Higher education is now massified, yet institutional consciousness is locked into a false image of its status and roles.

It is beyond my ability to say what higher education in Japan should become or will become, but I predict here that there will be no collapse or implosion. The enrollments and financial stability of non-elite institutions and new courses of study will turn more on the employment rate of their graduates than any other factor that could be added to an analysis of higher education. What follows is not a bullet-point list of predictions but something more like current realities, possibilities, and my own recommendations. Japan's universities and colleges will survive and possibly even flourish if some of the following come to be realized:

1. Teacher training colleges within the former national university system need to be restructured and their missions redefined. As they now exist, they are zombie institutions--they are dead, they just do not know it yet. Their post-war role has been to train annually thousands of teachers and non-teaching public civil servants. There are not enough students at the K-12 levels to justify training so many teachers. And public administration majors from these colleges face a bleak employment picture as well. That is because the national government during the period of 2004-2006 has largely abandoned two of its largest groups of civil servants, jettisoning both its national universities and its postal system (which was a huge government organization that successfully competed with the private sector in banking and insurance as well as its mail delivery operations). With 35 civil servants per 1000 persons, Japan has far fewer national and local civil servants than the US (81/1000), the UK (73/1000) or France (96/1000) and that figure is set to go still yet lower.

2. Two-year/junior colleges will continue the transition towards tighter integration with the more extensive four-year system of universities and colleges. First, the main reason why the total of two-year institutions is now down to 435 from the 559 of six years ago is the conversion to four-year colleges. Second, those that do not become four-year institutions may be able to survive and even thrive by becoming 'feeder' schools for other universities. They may also benefit by establishing more practical programs of study that result in qualifications leading to careers, such as nursing, physical and speech therapy, and medical technicians.

3. Japan's higher education will continue to internationalize. There are now about 120,000 international students studying in higher or further education. There have been calls for expanding this to 350,000 by 2020. This might sound ambitious, but the goal could be reached if universities with engineering programs go abroad. There is a critical shortage of engineers for manufacturing and construction in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. For example, some of the numerous Japanese universities with science faculty (singly or in consortia) might establish two-year study programs in Thailand and Malaysia at which students from all over Asia can prepare to complete a four-year degree at a Japanese university.

4. Whether at the national or local (prefectural or metropolitan) level, Japan needs to increase its public spending on higher and further education. Public expenditure on this sector is only around .5% of GDP, which is also less than half of what government in the US spends. Rather than funnel increased spending into further subsidy of scientific research and advanced teaching at elite universities, the government should put forward a plan to help ensure the survival of smaller regional institutions, no matter what their original charter (national, public, private). While small, financially unstable institutions located in 'greenfield' sites (in much the way bubble era golf resorts were) might not be worth saving, many universities and colleges in the remote regions outside the Pacific-Inland Sea conurbations are. If government here could increase its commitment to higher education to a level of 1.0 of GDP, it could have a distinctive, accessible, and more diverse, world-class higher education system for its entire population instead of a small group of world-class universities serving a narrow socio-economic elite in Tokyo.

15 October 2008

New issue of online journal SLEID out

First an announcement about the original content of the Jpn HEO Blog. We will be posting shortly a new entry in the 'Why English in Japan Fails' series as well as the completion of the series about the demographic decline of Japan and its HE.

Next, recommended reading for JPN HEO Blog readers:

Vol. 5, No. 3 (2008) of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development has now been published online at http://sleid.cqu.edu.au/viewissue.php?id=17


Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development

29 August 2008

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #7

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #7

Note: This is the SEVENTH of a series that is supposed to make it to at least TEN installments (Ten reasons why...). However, readers' comments are welcomed and will be added as reasons in the main series, with full credit given.

Reason #7: The situation at universities (Pt. 2 - Elite academics, non-elite students, mismatch of expectations, poor results)

The situation at the universities will actually have to comprise its own 'series within a series' and will result in more than one actual reason as to why English learning fails in Japan. This is the seventh installment of the series, but the second to focus on the situation at the universities.

The previous installment concluded with this statement: "The transition from a fairly selective small system to a mass system has probably had more to do with the quality of English education at the highest level than university exams." This will serve as the start of the current installment.

The higher education system of Japan is now a mass, near-open admissions system. This could be a good thing. Imagine millions of students enrolling in universities and colleges every year and freely choosing to study English as a foreign language (EFL) because they want to study it. However, as many who have taught EFL at a university, college or junior college here quickly come to observe, higher education can be a very difficult place to teach EFL.

So why is that? The author of the Japan HEO Blog has taught EFL in Japan for 19 years, 16 of which have been at the level of higher education (though not exclusively). Fortunately for the progress of this series, the author can say that in his opinion, there are a considerable number of related reasons why universities and colleges fail at EFL. Hence the confidence that this series could go on for at least 10 installments covering this complex of reasons for failure.

The first reason for the failure of universities and colleges at EFL is the mismatch of faculty with the student populations--which then creates mismatch with the learning requirements and needs of those students. The higher education system is mass and with near-open admission standards for many if not most institutions, departments and programs of study. Yet the university system continues to train and hire academics as if a very selective, elite system were the prevailing reality. So the university system expanded greatly in the 80s and 90s, the very same system, through its graduate programs, continued to create a core of academics to teach and do scholarship and research. Little wonder then that the faculties hire and promote academics with elite backgrounds that leaves them distant from the student populations in their charge.

The mismatch is somewhat similar to my experiences in the US. Take for example, the small state college where I got my bachelor's degree in 1979-83. Many of my professors were from well-to-do families who paid for them to go to elite universities, including a lot of Ivy League degrees. This was especially true of professors in the humanities and social sciences. Most had absolutely no clue whatsoever what it was like to grow up in area like rural south central Pennsylvania or to have to attend a particular institution for FINANCIAL reasons. Part of their elite arrogance was to assume that students were at a small state college because they had not achieved academically well enough to get into a higher-rated institution.

The situation in Japan is quite analogous. Many if not most of the people who are professors at the universities have had a much more privileged background than their students. This mismatch leads to a large breakdown in teaching and learning at the universities. First, many of the professors are hapless at teaching basic general education courses, including EFL. Their scholarly and research activities have been more likely limited to a very narrow academic specialty. Second, their teaching methods assume that most students should be like they were--attending a universities for academic knowledge and even a career in higher education.

Third, in the case of English, the breakdown happens in at least two areas, much to the detriment of EFL at the universities and colleges. Most of the professors assigned to teach English do not have any interest whatsoever in teaching EFL as a part of general education at their institutions. Their educational backgrounds and current 'research' activities more likely fall under labels like 'linguistics', 'English-language literature', and 'English education' (this last term refers to typically small departments that oversee English teacher training for secondary school education). Therefore, general education EFL, while extensive in terms of what is listed in the course catalog, is an embarrassment in the actual classroom. It flounders for lack of proper teaching, teacher development, program structure and evaluation. However, it also fails miserably as a specialized area of study. In fact, there are very few EFL programs at Japanese universities, and what programs do exist, you should remember, enroll only a small number of students. These programs and departments do not primarily exist to provide EFL to the rest of the institution. More than EFL undergraduate courses of study, you are far more likely to see programs in literature, linguistics, education, and cross-cultural studies.

The effects of this situation play out in problems, issues, and deficiencies that might exceed my ability to describe them. So I will instead try to generalize to a useful level of explanation. Students at universities will most likely take EFL classes as required General Education. These are large classes with an unmanageable mix of students. Students with low ability and low motivation, students with low ability and higher motivation, even the occasional students (typically ones who have spent time overseas) with high ability and, well, confused motivation. Students might also take EFL classes as options within an array of interdisciplinary classes. They have to take a certain number of credits to fulfill graduation requirements, but they have choices of what they can take. However, optional EFL classes are often designated 'enshuu', a term that I have difficulty translating. It is supposed to mean a course that is not run as a lecture course, but then it becomes hard to give a definitive answer as to what the other possibilities are.

In contrast to traditional lectures, an 'enshuu' is supposed to be more participatory and involve activities. This might sound like it has potential for a communicative EFL class, but its status as 'enshuu' can undercut students' perception of it as a legitimate university course. If you as a teacher of an 'enshuu' combine its already low academic status with language learning activities that students are not familiar with or which they see as 'non-academic', students may react by treating the 'enshuu' as a sort of play time. 'Enshuu' typically earn fewer credits than lectures and seminars. Also, when you teach an 'enshuu', the issue of placement will rear its ugly head. You might try to run a course called 'Advanced English Writing', and students who can not earn a valid TOEIC score because their proficiency is so low will register and attend.

How does all this relate to the 'reason' given at the start of this piece? My theory is that general education and optional 'interdisciplinary' studies are, in part, a mess at the universities because of the demographic (lower academic standards) and economic (greater affluence, or at least an expectation of it) shifts from a selective, elite system to a mass, open one. The universities and their departments, and the elite academics that dominate them, often have absolutely no clue whatsoever as to what role general education and interdisciplinary studies should play in the education of their non-elite students. As it turns out, neither do their students! The academics seem to expect students to emerge from senior high school ready to be trained in narrow academic specialties (the elite assumption being that there is an underlying level of educational achievement before admission to higher education). The students themselves simply want clear guidelines and training to enable them to pass, graduate and get a job.

27 August 2008

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #6

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #6

Note: This is the SIXTH of a series that is supposed to make it to at least ten short installments (Ten reasons why...). However, readers' comments are welcomed and will be added as reasons in the main series, with full credit given.

Reason #6: The situation at universities (Pt. 1 - Entrance Exams)

The situation at the universities will actually have to comprise its own 'series within a series' and will result in more than one actual reason as to why English learning fails in Japan.

Basically, the reason/problem for this installment concerns the entrance exams of universities and colleges. The common explanation is that, due to negative wash back from university exams, senior high schools concentrate too much teaching and learning on getting ready for such exams. This deadens English at the upper secondary level. Also, the senior highs are locked into a similar situation because their entrance requirements adversely affect junior high English teaching and learning (especially year three, the final year of junior high or middle school in Japan).

The Japan HEO Blog agrees that entrance exams are a major issue, but some of the following analysis may not agree with the sort of 'causal explanations' you will hear at JALT conferences.

The university system in Japan is notorious for its entrance exams, and it is popularly thought that such exams exercise a negative 'wash back' effect on language teaching and learning at the senior highs. However, such explanations are flawed in their simplicity.

English of a sorts is indeed a prominent part of the national 'center exam' that most university applicants take and is also typically a major part of the second set of exams many students face. (These are the exams that universities, faculties and departments create and administer after the center exam.) I have also heard some at universities say that, unlike most of the other subjects on entrance exams, English always gives a "nice spread of scores" (meaning that there is something more like a predictable 'bell curve' in the ways scores are distributed). This can be a reassurance of some reliability if you have to make high stakes decisions on whom to accept and whom to reject

The arguments against the entrance exams usually develop into more elaborate explanatory theories with implied solutions, such as the following: Because the content of the exams tends to be literary, not practical, and includes a lot of translation problems, the wash back effect at the high schools means that they will not teach practical or communicative English. However, high schools are going to teach a lot of exam English--that is, preparation for exams--regardless of other considerations (such as whether or not students want to learn 'communicative' English). Do you think, for example, that if a university started using the TOEIC or TOEFL or Eiken/STEP for entrance qualification, high school teaching would be invigorated towards 'practical' and 'communicative' English? Would teaching specifically for exams like these actually create more practical and communicative English at the high schools?

Consider the example of the national center exam. It changed recently and now includes listening questions similar to the ones you might find on TOEIC, TOEFL and Eiken /STEP. This mostly resulted in senior high English classes increasing their listening components. It did not transform the English at the senior highs into a new realm of practical, communicative English.

Another problem with the theory of the wash back is it is wrongly one-way. As it turns out, high schools have a wash back on the universities. That is because most universities and colleges (except an elite group of the top 50 or so) are now desperate to get high school graduates to apply and enroll. Even if the top universities are not desperate in this numbers game, they are also in a new type of competition. That is, they are more eager than ever to identify and select the more capable and already-educated students from the high school populations. In other words, students ready to go quickly onto more specialized study and then graduate school.

So most non-elite universities and colleges really can not set too many difficult hurdles in way of admissions' qualifications. Moreover, university entrance exams are often authored specifically keeping in mind the sort of high school populations they have traditionally drawn on to get their quota of admissions each year. The institutional exams are really more a major way for the universities to earn income from the applicants. Not only do universities want to match their admissions quotas; their fiscal administrators tell their admissions offices they need to keep their number of total applicants well above the number they actually admit. The tests are written as part of the way to make money off all the applicants. Some have argued that such considerations actually go beyond the need to test any abilities, proficiencies or achievements of their applicants.

What would happen if, for example, most of the students applying to a particular department took a university's entrance exam and failed to get a qualifying score in English? Would the department fail to get a sufficient intake of students? No, it would simply lower the required score until the necessary number got admitted. In effect, it would waive the English requirement.

While it might seem strange for anyone to argue for a strong wash back effect from the high schools on the universities and colleges, that really is not the point. The point is, rather, if it ever existed, there is no longer any strong, negative, one-way wash back effect coming from the universities raining down on the the high schools.

If anything, the universities and high schools have disconnected and re-connected in a weaker but mutual 'wash back circuit' . That is because the university system in Japan has become for most institutions and most high school graduates a mass, near-open admissions system. If university entrance exams have negative wash back, it is mostly in terms of the nature of the students a given institution, faculty or department attracts. It is more and more a 'buyer's market' in university admissions for those high school graduates who have the money and time to attend higher education for 4 or more years. And once again we are considering a two-way wash back effect because universities manipulate the content and level of difficulty of their exams to reflect what they think are the abilities of the students they are most likely to get first as applicants and then as enrollments.

Overall, the entrance exams guarantee a level of basic literacy in Japanese and some numeracy for most of the students going onto higher education. And that is about it. The transition from a fairly selective small system to a mass system has probably had more to do with the quality of English education at the highest level than university exams. Which will help keep this discussion going into the next installment.

25 August 2008






A new issue of the online journal, Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development (SLEID) is now available. The articles are available in convenient PDF.

Vol. 5, No. 2 (2008) of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development has now been published online at http://sleid.cqu.edu.au/viewissue.php?id=16


Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development

24 July 2008

A look at Japan's vocational schools at Japan Today

Recommended reading at Japan Today. The article provides some insight into the significance of vocational-type further education in Japan. I predict that you will see convergence of vocational colleges with the university-college (daigaku, with four-year programs) sector, as is already evident with the institution profiled in this piece--Nihon Kogakuin College. Also significant is the importance of foreign students (mostly from S. Korea and Taiwan) in keeping enrollments up. Link to article is followed by a short excerpt.


excerpt>>Vocational schools on the move

In Japan, 3,218 private vocational schools offer professional education in individual areas of industry. Currently, 23.1% of high school graduates study at vocational schools and 99.6% of them find employment after graduation.

One of the leading vocational schools in Japan is Nihon Kogakuin College, which is part of the Katayanagi Institute group. The school has offered industrial education since its establishment in 1947. Today, the school proactively accepts foreign students due to the labor shortage in IT and technology industry.<

19 July 2008

Call for ONE MILLION foreign students in higher education in Japan

Note: The Japan HEO Blog is currently in a 'hold' status, perhaps appropriate for the summer doldrums and the swell of work at the end of a university term (which is at the end of July).

In August-September, if I have successfully moved my office in early August, you can reasonably expect a finish to the three-part series on the demographic decline of Japan vis-a-vis university enrollments, as well as the 10-part series on 'Why English fails'. About the latter series, I am currently working on reason number 6, in which universities will face some harsh criticism. About the former, the article on 'demographic decline', that has been completed but requires some harsh, critical editing of its own before it is fit for publication.

Call for ONE MILLION foreign students in higher education in Japan

Japan Times published an article in June that was titled, 'Fukuda gets report on boosting immigrants'.

Basically, the plan (really a set of group-written suggestions marred by inconsistency and lack of coherence) calls for the government of Japan to stabilize the current population by increasing immigration to the extent that immigrants would comprise around 10% of the population by the year 2060. Japan's population is said to have peaked at somewhere between 127-8 million, with the total number of males already registering declines. Given the extremely low birth rate of around 1.3, demographic decline (without expansive immigration) is being predicted as inevitable.

Taking a cue from Australia apparently, some Japanese policy advisers who have the attention of the currently unpopular prime minister hope to use the overly large university system as a tool to manage immigration, and vice versa. That is, they are calling for a near ten-fold increase in the number of foreign students in further and higher education, from the currently stagnant 120,000 or so, to a world-beating level of 1 million by the year 2025.

This could help many universities, colleges and polytechnics which are facing stagnant or declining enrollments annually in the face of ever smaller high school graduate cohorts. In the long term, it is hoped apparently that many highly educated and skilled immigrants would stay in Japan, as, for example, many Chinese do once they go to Australia for graduate and professional degrees.

However, a few issues are glaring in their omission.

First, the Japanese university system is simply not prepared to teach, train or involve in research large numbers of Asian students (or any other foreign national) in any language except Japanese. Talk of using English to teach classes and whole programs in English is mostly just empty talk--so far. But this might just be what would be required if 1 out of 3 students are going to be non-Japanese (unless Japan could also increase its ability to teach Japanese to non-natives to the level required for university study). A related problem is that most Asian students are not prepared to study abroad in English--and Japan would be the last place on earth most would consider going to in order to improve their English!

Second, the current higher education system already produces a surplus of graduates (most Japanese of course) who are supposed to be skilled at the level of a technician, engineer, or the Japanese equivalent of a 'liberal arts' major (who for years swelled the ranks of the ever-swelling civil servant corps and academia--many of whom were also civil servants in the national and public university systems). Post-Koizumi, however, the civil servant corps is as stagnant as university enrollments, and academia's declining need for professors (especially male ones) is a direct reflection of those stagnant university enrollments as well as the fiscal move to privatize and streamline national and public universities.

But Japanese employers are hoping for an influx of cheap, exploitable, unskilled labor willing to accept physical labor and harsh working conditions that most Japanese would balk at. Perhaps there is one main area on which the expressed desires for skilled, educated foreign immigrants and the 'needs' of the current job market of Japan's capitalist political economy will converge. That would be medicine, specifically nursing. Japan's numerous hospitals need nurses to help take care of the aging population, and they will needs many more in the next 50 years. Again, however, it must be pointed out that language difficulties and cultural differences could cause many more problems than Japanese policy makers have anticipated.

Two key excerpts follow, an then a link to the full article at Japan Times.

Key quote 1

>>Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party submitted a bold report Friday to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, calling for Japan to increase its foreign residents to up to 10 percent of the nation's population in the next 50 years.<<end of excerpt

Key quote 2

>>Suggestions in the newest proposal include forming a plan to have 1 million foreign students in Japan by 2025, nurturing talent through education and professional training, and providing opportunities to live and work in Japan.<<end of excerpt

Fukuda gets report on boosting immigrants


Follow up to 'Try free open-source run-anywhere software'

In follow up to some of the suggested software

1. You can run Google Docs offline -- integrated onto a desktop and within your browser program (an advanced form of Firefox or Explorer) -- if you download Google 'Gears'.


2. Using the new Google Docs templates can speed up using Google Docs as a word processor or presentation program to create files with heavier formatting.


03 July 2008

Try free open-source run-anywhere software

Why use expensive commercial 'bloatware' (which locks you into an endless cycle of planned obsolescence at your expense) when so much free, open-source software is now available? Much of it even runs on Windows, although much of the software emerged from open source communities and companies that backed open source (at least in some forms).

The portable applications, such as Lupo PenSuite and PortableApps will run on the hard drive of your computer (without creating hard-to-uninstall files and registry artifacts), but you can also run them from a portable pen drive or other such memory device (SD card, Memory Stick, attached external hard drive, etc.). There are other products and online services available in addition to the ones listed here, but, except for the last entry on the list ('Other'), I am only including ones that I have downloaded and am using now.

It is not just that expensive proprietary software is being challenged by cheaper and even free rivals. It's that desktop computing and office functions, like DTP and word processing, are now being ingeniously adapted to ubiquitous computing and the new Web (Web 2.0). What I like about much of the software listed below is that, not only is it free, but I can run it on all my computers and on any computer that I use (such as at an internet cafe when I travel), with or without an internet connection (except Google Docs and PicasaWeb , which are a web-based word processor and photo album, respectively).

I. Lupo PenSuite

This is a whole set of portable programs (you can run them from your chosen type of plug-in memory, such as an SD card, Memory Stick, or Pen Drive), and it is available in both full and light versions.

Download here:

The suite includes portable versions of Firefox, Opera, Thunderbird, Gimp, IrFanView, ClamWin Anti-Virus, AbiWord WP, and numerous other productivity applications and utilities. Language packs for many languages are also available.

Here is a link to a longer list of software either included with the Lupo PenSuite or compatible with it, and available for download:


II. PortableApps

Another total package of programs that comes in a suite or to be run 'anywhere' as individual programs. This one includes a very nifty portable, run-anywhere version of Open Office, itself a suite of programs that can replace MS Office.

Download versions of the PortApps suite here:


III. OpenOffice

This is a complete office suite that includes compatibility with MS Office and other word processors. However, the open document standard that is being promoted with Open Office also integrates with Google Documents, the online word processor that Google provides to its account holders.

Download information is here:


III. StarOffice and StarOffice as part of Google Pack)



StarOffice is the commercial version of OpenOffice (it descends from German software that Sun Systems acquired in order to compete with MS in word processors and office suites). However, a free version is available if you have a Google account and you can download it as part of Google Pack software (which is well-known for such titles as Picasa and Google Earth).

Although OpenOffice and StarOffice are 'sister' program suites, differences do emerge when you actually run them. This is, in part, because I run OpenOffice for English and I use a Japanese language version of StarOffice. Additionally, I find I can open document formats in StarOffice that OpenOffice can not handle--such as documents in the format of Japan's venerable word processor and office suite--JustSystem's Ichitaro.

For more information about StarOffice as part of Google Pack, see this blog:


To download the entire Google Pack, go here:


IV. Yahoo! Downloads

Mostly downloads for web communications and Web 2.0 life.

Try http://mobile.yahoo.com/ if you can do real 3G telephony with a programmable phone.
If you are accessing them from your phone, type m.yahoo.com in your phone browser.

V. Google Docs

You need a Google account, and once you have it, you can co-ordinate your g-mail activity with your Google Docs (such as upload an attached .doc from an e-mail and begin to edit it at the Google Docs interface, which is really a word processor running in your browser). Not only does Google Docs integrate with other Google services, but it accepts the Open Document format (such as documents saved in the default format of Open Office, extension .odt) and Star Office (.sxw) as well as MS (.doc) and Rich Text (.rtf).

Also, make note of PicasaWeb, which integrates a web service for photos with the really good photo editing and album software available through Google Pack, a program called Picasa.


VI. Other

A. Free Portable Software Downloads

B. Open Source Living

For example, imagine replacing Adobe Page Maker for DTP with freeware, such as Scribus:


C. winPenPack 3.4

Another suite of programs optimized to run anywhere, such as on a pen drive.



To download, go here:




06 June 2008

Follow-up: Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology

On 4 February 2008 the Japan HEO Blog ran an article on the proposed Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology.

(See: Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology )

Here is a follow-up to that story--the latest news from Bernama, Malaysia's official news agency. PM Abdullah was on a recent visit to Japan and on 24 May announced that Japan will provide yen loans and teachers.

Although this is reported to be a new development, this would actually seem to be something more like a disappointing step back on the Japanese side. Before, the talk had been of co-administration and funding, not just loans.

It is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars and a stable endowment to establish a new international university of technology. But accpeting such a burden might have little appeal in Japan because most Japanese students would be ill-prepared and reluctant to enroll in such an institution. It must be very difficult within the Japanese government, bogged down for over a decade in troubled finances, to justify the necessary financial commitment.

This proposed university would seem to be more the vision of Malaysia's former long-serving PM, Dr. Mahathir. It most likely would take someone with his independence, vision and stature to get back on track the project to create the Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology.

Such a revival of effort is well worth thinking about. There is an enormous potential for benefits to both countries. First, Japan's higher education sector could learn how to internationalize its approach to administration and business operations by having a presence overseas. Second, it would allow the Japan's higher education sector, facing a somewhat bleak future with an aging population and stagnant enrollments, to tap into a much more youthful country for higher education. Or make that 'countries', since industries in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, as well as Malaysia, suffer from shortages of scientists and engineers. A new international university of technology could serve all these countries. Finally, it would also help make Malaysia the true higher education hub of S. and S.E. Asia instead of the land-scare city-state of Singapore.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the current government of Japan is unpopular. It lacks a foreign policy beyond appeasement of US strategic interests in Asia. And right now the Fukuda cabinet's main concern is its own political survival.

Link to the full article and an excerpt below:


excerpt >>Japan Offers Yen Loan For New University

From Mikhail Raj Abdullah

TOKYO, May 24 (Bernama) -- Japan is to offer a yen loan to Malaysia to finance the setting up of the Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said here Friday.

He said Tokyo was also prepared to loan adequate teaching manpower to Malaysia to put the university, which was planned several years ago, into operation.

Speaking to reporters after bilateral talks with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan here, Abdullah said officials of both countries would meet to discuss the details.<< end of excerpt

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