13 February 2008

FACTOID #1: How many universities are there in Japan?

FACTOID #1: How many universities are there in Japan?

This is the first of an occasional 'factoid' series on higher education in Japan. I will try to go beyond the mere facts and analyze some of the reality that lies beneath.

Question: How many universities are there in Japan?

Answer: Depending on which government data source you use, there are 744 or 745 'universities'.

However, this has to be qualified because there is an issue that arises with meanings and translations. In Japanese, the term 'daigaku' usually means any government-chartered institution that has been certified to issue four-year undergraduate degrees.

The term 'daigaku' then gets translated as 'university', but it could also mean a four-year college in Japan (similar to one American sense of the word, such as a 'small liberal arts college'). So a considerable number of daigaku are really only colleges with few courses of study leading to a four-year degree (the equivalent of a 'bachelor's').

Despite a severe decline in the populations of senior high graduates (typically, 18 year olds) over the past decade and a half, the number of government-approved 'daigaku' in Japan continues to grow. These cohorts have fallen steadily from over two million in the early 90s to just over one million now. Much to the relief of higher education institutions, this population has started to level off and won't face steep declines again until the year 2020 (the real year of reckoning for Japan's over-built higher education sector).

So for a while yet, the number of daigaku looks set to increase at least slightly as many of the troubled 'tanki daigaku'--two-year junior colleges--go through a laborious process with the ministry of education and re-emerge certified to run four-year programs. It also makes economic sense to the business planners of institutions for two reasons: (1) more young women choose or are allowed to go to college for four years instead of the traditional two. (2) And if high school or college-eligible populations are dropping or leveling off at a number too low for the financial bottom line, then keeping students enrolled for two or more years helps that bottom line.

Even as I write this and you read this, there are probably two-year institutions getting ready to debut as four-year 'daigaku' as of 1 April this year (the school year in Japan begins then).

While the number of four-year colleges continues to grow, it must be said that the majority of 'daigaku' in Japan should be called universities because they include several colleges (and their faculties) and offer a fairly wide range of majors and specialties. The majority are also private universities, enrolling around 75% of undergraduates. But that will serve for another factoid in this series (That is, "Are there private universities in Japan?")

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