13 February 2008

FACTOID #2: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited?

This factoid dated quickly. It was published in early 2008 but mostly based on information from 2004-7. It would appear most are now accredited by one of the four accrediting agencies and we are well into cycles of re-accreditation. However, as to how meaningful it is and how the role of the national government has changed (or not), these are not so clear. JPNHEO blog still stands by its criticisms of generic , American-style accreditation.

See this exchange as an update to this piece:  



FACTOID #2: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited?

Question: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited?

Answer: They could be, but most are not--not yet, anyway.

In theory, certified tertiary institutions (universities, junior colleges, colleges of technology) could be accredited. But very few institutions or programs have actually undergone external evaluation and accreditation. Even this limited activity is a fairly recent phenomenon because accreditation was switched from voluntary to mandatory.

Japan's political economy is structured around a centralized national government, which attempts to exert control across the entire country from the top on down to the lowest level of government. The higher education sector is no exception. Institutions can run taught programs and issue degrees because they have gone through a time-consuming, laborious process of registering with the national government. The more government money an institution takes (such as the former national and public universities), the more direct the control of the government is.

The concept of accreditation in the way Americans think of it has little meaning in Japan. For example, Temple University of Japan (TUJ) has never bothered to register with the national government as a domestic institution, citing costs and interference with its autonomy over curriculum. Yet it asserts that the accreditation which Temple University in the US has also applies as a mark of quality over its programs and courses in Japan. That is a dubious proposition at best. But that has more to do with the problems of American-style accreditation than with Temple University or TUJ. Also, under the current era of reform, the Japanese government has conceded to TUJ the right to have its degrees recognized in Japan.

American-style accreditation has not yet been a major factor in standardization and quality assurance at universities and colleges in Japan. The national government and its ministry of education had required that universities and colleges conduct internal review of their programs and operations and report the results. The term 'external audit' in the case of a private university would most likely mean an accounting audit to satisfy the board of directors or the tax office.

Japan's School Education Act was amended in 2002, with a new mandatory accreditation scheme starting in 2004. The government certified a handful of accreditation organizations, and all public and private universities, junior colleges, and colleges of technology are now required to undergo the accreditation process every seven years. So accreditation of entire institutions or at least some of their programs could soon be a major factor in higher education.

Between 2004-2007 a small fraction of Japan's total certified higher education institutions underwent accreditation as sort of a pilot program. And now the national government is forcing the former national universities into an external review process administered by the four existing accrediting agencies.

Still, until the outcomes of the first external review process become clear in the next several years and until all institutions can join the accreditation process, the national government is the single source of 'legitimacy' for universities and colleges. Besides, confusingly enough, it now certifies the accrediting agencies. And tertiary institutions can issue degrees, certificates and diplomas only because the national government approves and certifies them. The government also sets enrollment quotas for all certified universities and colleges.

It is also uncertain whether or not American-style accreditation processes can validly and reliably assess Japanese institutions. Actually, it is not even certain if what the government here has in mind is American-style accreditation. It appears to be a mix of both top-down government roles of the sort American institutions would never abide combined with non-government accreditating agencies, the oldest of which goes back to the Occupation (namely, the Japan University Accreditation Association).

In 1947-8 the American Occupation attempted to establish American-style accreditation when it controlled the entire education system of Japan and pushed educational reform as a way of 'fixing' what Americans thought was wrong with the imperial Japan it had defeated. But the nationalist conservatives who run the Japanese government, once given the chance to rule, always asserted their right to control the university system as an integral part of national and territorial sovereignty.

It should also be pointed out that American-style accreditation is not understood well outside of Anglo-North America and is not inherently 'universal'. It would seem the concept confuses many Americans as well. An American institution does not have the legal right to issue a valid degree because of accreditation but rather its charter with its respective state government. Japan doesn't have state governments, and the prefectural governments are more on the scale of the county in the US.

But most importantly, it has to be asked: Has American-style accreditation even kept up with the US's hypertrophied higher education, let alone proven to be a model for other countries? Is it really an assurance of quality for highly technical programs or innovative ones in emergent fields? Can it assess new modes of delivery (such as modular study done through distance learning over the internet and WWW)?

At any rate, the four official accrediting agencies that are going to become busy in the next several years, as hundreds, if not thousands, of universities and colleges undergo the accreditation process are the following:

(1) National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE)
(2) Japan University Accreditation Association (JUAA)
(3) Japan Institution for Higher Education Evaluation (JIHEE)
(4) Japan Association for College Accreditation (JACA)

There is also the non-government Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE). This organization bears mentioning because of the large number of engineering programs at universities in Japan, both national and private.

What Japan really needs is certification and accreditation standards that fit the needs of the 100,000 plus students from China, E. Asia and S.E. Asia now completing degrees and certificates in higher education. The educational authorities and policy makers in Japan ought to be discussing harmonization for credits, certificates and degrees with China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. For example, why not an all-Asian set of standards for degree-level qualifications in engineering? And what universities worldwide need are systems of accreditation that mesh with government policies in education, but are capable of assessing quality over diversifying modes of delivery and very specific specialities. .

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