08 February 2008

Cache of Japan HE articles at THES

At least for a while, it appears Times Higher Education Supplement, which recently re-launched its online presence, is making its archived news content available for free.

The following link is actually a search of the archive which I did using my name, 'Jannuzi', as the search term. It called up 17 articles that I wrote for THES between 2000-2006.


The articles of 2005-6 are for the most part still current. The analysis articles on the reform and re-chartering of Japan's national universities, which appeared in 2000-1, prove surprisingly predictive and accurate given the limited information I had to work with at the time.

I plan to draw on some of these past articles for future discussions at the Japan Higher Education Outlook Blog in the near future.

05 February 2008

End of the national development state for HE in Japan?

End of the national development state for HE in Japan?
by Charles Jannuzi


Japan's vast higher education system includes around 1300 government-certified, degree-awarding institutions, 745 of which are designated as universities (that is, awarding 4-year degrees). This system enrolls close to 3 million undergraduate students, including about 120,000 foreign nationals. The national government directly funds and indirectly subsidizes higher education in multiple ways. This fiscal mission ensures that the national government directs how institutions run degree programs and carry out research in science and technology. Any detailed analysis of how public and private monies are used to fund higher education in Japan reveals considerable disparities and complexities across the system, depending most on an institution's type and charter.

Over a decade of economic blahs--and budgetary woes

Japan's government has continued to struggle with a period of low economic growth that started in the early 1990s and is well into its second decade. This period has seen ballooning levels of public debt and government deficits, bringing calls to end the 'national development state' and to reform the country into a mature, services-oriented, consumption-driven economy more in tune with its dominant ally, the US.

Government bets on an improved higher ed sector

Despite such difficulties, the national government has remained committed to subsidizing higher education because it falls under both education and science. Much hope for reform of Japan's society and political economy is pinned on improvements in these two areas.

Somewhere between 8-10% of the annual national budget goes to the category of 'education and science'. Statements of exact amounts for the past decade vary by year, source, definitions, and exchange rates, but this 'super category' of expenditure can be estimated to be perennially over US$ 60 billion. Again, depending upon definitions, all forms of education that are post-secondary probably receive close to 40% of this, an amount that could be put at close to US$ 25 billion.

The national government also subsidizes education and higher education through its revenue sharing and tax grants to local government. Local governments nationwide spend about double the amount the national government does on school education, but higher education only captures about 7% of this. Much of this goes to fund the country's 86 public (prefectural or metropolitan) universities.  

Former national universities to drive scientific R&D--and economic growth

Another prominent goal has been to spend an amount of public funds on scientific research and development at a level of 1% of GDP. This has benefited universities with research laboratories and centers, especially those within the national university system of 87 institutions. This commitment to scientific research matches in size the 1 - 1.5% of GDP that is annually put towards higher education in total from both public and private sources.

Japan's political economy is structured around a centralized national government, which exerts control across the entire country from the top on down to the lowest of government. The higher education sector is no exception.

American-style accreditation is not yet a major factor in quality assurance. 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.

In the case of national institutions, the quotas determine the size of bloc grants disbursed annually in support of taught programs. In effect, this means that the top university in Japan, the University of Tokyo, receives the same amount per student from bloc grants as do the handful of tiny national teachers' colleges.

NUCs are born

With an act of legislation that took effect in October 2003, Japan's national universities were re-chartered. Effective 1 April 2004, each university became a national university corporation (NUC). The NUCs are being weaned from annual bloc grants by a reduction of 1% per year. However, they are allowed to raise their tuition fees by a maximum of 10%. This means that eventually the NUCs will charge rates that are similar to private universities. Private institutions make up around 75% of higher education, and their average annual tuition fees of around US$7,400 are about 35% higher than those at national or public institutions.

Can the newly born NUCs adjust and even thrive?

In the next decade, NUCs must scramble to shift their finances to the business operations of their school corporations, deriving funding from the sort of mix that private universities and colleges have long had to live with--higher tuition fees, donations, investments, and revenue-raising activities. Meanwhile, as the NUCs guaranteed share of national education funding is reduced, private universities are sure to increase their efforts to compete for the national funds that are being offered to create an elite 30 world-class universities.

04 February 2008

Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology

Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology
by Charles Jannuzi


In late August 2007, Japan's then-prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Malaysia on an official three-day visit for bilateral talks with his Malaysian counterpart, PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The meetings in Putrajaya, the new planned city and government center of Malaysia , marked both the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two Asian nations and the 25th anniversary of Malaysia's 'Look East Policy'. A joint statement from the PMs for the occasion announced a renewed call for the rapid establishment of the Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology (MJIUT).

However, after only one troubled year in office, the sudden collapse of the Abe government on 12 September 2007 has cast serious doubts about the future of the MJIUT. This is a project which so far has seemed to elude any realistic schedules for completion or even cost estimates. The utter lack of specifics on time and money is not at all encouraging for the start up of a new science and technology university, since such an institution is so capital intensive and requires expensive equipment, highly trained personnel, and a career structure for its academics.

Hopeful statements, but...

Just where does the project stand in the list of priorities of the hastily formed government of new Japan PM Yasuo Fukuda? The signals being sent seem somewhat encouraging. As reported in October 2007 by the official news agency of Malaysia, Masahiko Horie, Japan's new ambassador appointee to Malaysia, has stated that a major goal of his tenure is the completion of the new university. He reiterated that the completion of the institution will be a high priority for his term as ambassador during a trip to Penang last month (January 2008).

An international symposium in Kuala Lumpur on 12-15 November 2007 was held to promote cooperative research in advanced technology between Japan and Malaysia in support of the new university's establishment. Still, since the Ambassador Horie has given no specific guidance on budgets or realistic targets for stages of completion (other than the goal of opening by mid-2009), the Malaysian side must be hoping his tenure is longer than his predecessor's one year under Abe.

Flagship project for the 'Asian Gateway' Concept

Over the past two years, the MJIUT has been promoted as a 'flagship' project ushering in a new era of expanded economic and cultural ties between Japan and SE Asia, including the vital trade partner and newly industrialized country, Malaysia. For example, the joint university project was supposed to exemplify the benefits of bilateral trade liberalization and harmonization of the Japan-Malaysia Economic Partnership Agreement, which went into effect in July 2006.

Of course such projects can sell the benefits of the many bilateral free trade agreements Japan has been reaching with countries in ASEAN and worldwide. But the origins of the MJIUT go back to November 2001 at the the ASEAN+3 Summit in Brunei, where then Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad proposed the project during talks with then Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi. PM Mahathir, nearing the end of his long reign as a dominant figure in Malaysian and SE Asian politics, was seeking ways to make his legacy in education and social development more lasting while taking his leadership vision to other parts of Asia. At the same time, PM Koizumi, only just starting out, needed to be seen as an effective leader of reform and renewal in Japan. Therefore Mahathir's brainchild proved appealing to both countries' governments and was the envy of other ASEAN nations seeking more Japanese involvement in their development plans.

Predictions for opening dates keep receding

Reports that the MJIUT would be operating sometime in the period 2004-8 have proven, predictably enough, wrong. Even the new target of June 2009 now seems out of reach. For a start, official statements about the proposal at the initial stages gave way to wishful thinking regarding the condition of Japan's government finances or the management expertise of a consortium of Japanese universities and their academics assigned to this project. Also, Japan's overseas development aid (10% of which goes to education) began to decline severely while Koizumi was PM, both in total yen amounts (because of the need to control government borrowing) and in purchasing power (because of the weak yen). Moreover, advocates of the initiative may have underestimated the difficulty in overcoming language barriers and cultural differences between the two sponsoring nations.

Still, there has been some progress on the ground. In December 2005 the City Campus (KL) of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) became host to the Malaysia-Japan University Center (MJUC). This center has functioned as the start-up form of the new university. A small group of Japanese academics from the Japan university consortium has been assigned to this center while Malaysian officials administer it. Its mission is to spearhead the planning and building of the new university.

Location somewhere in the Klang Valley

Meanwhile the burden of financing the ambitious project is shifting from joint government sponsorship to a mix of public and private funds coming from consortia set up in both countries. These consortia consist of government ministries, associating universities, and companies, including ones that may be exploring opportunities in for-profit education provision. If construction does begin, the most likely location would be a greenfield site south of crowded and expensive K. L., in the towns of Nilai or Enstek or some similar location in the 'Klang Valley' (a descriptive term that can take in quite a bit of real estate). These towns are said to form a 'knowledge valley', home to a growing group of institutions of higher learning and research, including Nilai International University College, INTI International University College, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, and Islamic University College Malaysia. In addition to having the MJIUT, the Nilai area, because it is centrally located relative to KL, the international airport, Putrayjaya, and Cyberjaya, has also been designated as the future host for similar technical institutes to be run jointly with interests from S. Korea and Taiwan.

Good time for a tie-up for HE in both Japan and Malaysia

An unprecedented public-private tie-up between Japan and Malaysia to run a major transnational science and technology university could not come at a better time for the higher education systems of both countries.

Japan's 700+ universities and four-year colleges are struggling to meet their government-set enrollment quotas. The population of senior high school graduates peaked over a decade ago and its current size, just over one million, is still in decline. With about 50% of this cohort continuing to university or college, Japan's large higher education system of about 1250 degree-granting institutions has entered an era of open admissions and intense competition to admit the best students. To help meet the shortfalls in enrollment from the domestic population, universities and colleges have turned increasingly to students from overseas. International students are close to 120,000, but their numbers peaked several years ago and have been falling.

This year the Japanese government called for a renewed drive to internationalize the universities while keeping enrollments up, requesting that the number of foreign students be increased to an extremely ambitious 350,000 by 2025. Of the international students now in Japan, by far the single largest national group is from China, followed by S. Korea and Taiwan. Students from Malaysia, like ASEAN neighbor and rival, Thailand, form a much smaller but significant group of about 2% of the 120,000 internationals studying in Japan. Numbers from China are inflated by many who are doing relatively short-term Japanese language study. Those from Malaysia are sponsored by their own government to stay and complete two- and four-year degrees. Degrees issued in Japan and Malaysia are now recognized in both countries.

Following a pattern set with a number of foreign institutions from Anglophone countries operating branch campuses in Malaysia, the proposed MJIUT might educate students for two years in country and then have them finish their four-year degrees by spending the last two years at the universities in Japan that are members of the sponsoring university consortium. Some of the successful graduates might then stay on at universities in Japan to complete graduate program or enter careers with Japanese companies operating in SE Asia.

Malaysia has been frustrated by a lack of representation in international and Asian rankings of universities. So clearly the hope is that an infusion of money and technological know-how from the E. Asian trade surplus giants of Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan will boost the country's fortunes in globalizing its expanding higher education system. Because of their developed systems (as well as language barriers), these countries send few students abroad to study in science and technology. If language and cultural differences can be overcome (major issues that can not be overestimated) , the thinking is Japan and its national development state apprentices, S. Korea and Taiwan, should be able to export science and technology education to Malaysia.

Could Malaysia become SE Asia's #1 HE hub?

The Malaysian government would like to see its higher education sector compete with Singapore to become the dominant hub of SE Asia. Prime Minister Abdullah recently called for the current number of 50,000 international students to be doubled to 100,000 by 2010. The majority of foreign students in Malaysia (over 60%) are enrolled in private (and even private, for-profit) institutions. Technical institutes and universities with connections to corporations, research institutes and higher education in Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan would certainly prove attractive to a large number of students under-served in populous China, India, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Moreover, Malaysia may well prove to have the edge over Singapore in terms of physical space, cost, and potential for future immigration. Cultural and religious affinities can not be dismissed.

Malaysia's main rival for hub status is the city state of Singapore. Compared to Malaysia, it is tiny, crowded, expensive, and closed to most immigration. Its close military relationships with the US and Israel do little for its image in much of the world. Compared to sprawling, resource-rich Malaysia, Singapore may lack appeal to the growing number of young people from the Islamic world, namely nearby Indonesia (the world's most populous majority Muslim country), but also the Muslim parts of Thailand and the Philippines as well as Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the affluent Gulf States. Also, Malaysia's higher education system already has significant numbers of students from W. and N. Africa.

03 February 2008

An extended look at academic freedom in HE in Japan

Academic freedom in Japan's higher education--a more in-depth look
by Charles Jannuzi


Many attempts at analyzing the nature of government in post-war Japan tend to emphasize continuity with 'old' Japan and its conservative nationalism. However, such analysis does not insightfully refer to tendencies that are ancient or even old by historical standards. Instead, any connection with past rule has to be made with early modern Japan, from the start of the Meiji era (1868) to the start of the second world war.

Sweeping political, social and cultural changes in the last half of the 19th century opened up Japan to outside ideas, knowledge and technology. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was actually a political revolution which swept away most elements of the old shogunate government and its prestige culture. New factions of elites capable of leadership and rule emerged during a time of great social unrest and change.

Some historical background

Under the guise of restoring an emperor, they established a constitutional monarchy which then oversaw the laws and policies of early modern Japan of the Meiji and Taishou eras (1868-1927). Enlightenment-inspired moves toward pluralism and democracy were checked by a government headed and run by the survivors of a political and social revolution. They gave top priority to retaining and expanding their power through institutionalizing a national culture of unity and by pushing for the all-out industrial development of the country.

From the very beginning of modern Japan, a tightly controlled education system at the primary and lower secondary (middle school) levels was instituted to help effect conformance to a national culture and manage top-down control of social change and development. On the other hand, a relatively lighter, more liberal touch to the upper levels (upper secondary, normal schools for teacher training, tertiary) was thought vital to assure that these levels expanded in terms of facilities and trained staff. Teachers at this level required sufficient academic freedom to assure advanced learning in scientific and technical subjects.

Relative academic freedom brought with it deep obligations: Access to the top parts of the higher education system was supposed to be granted only to a tested, loyal, meritocratic elite deemed capable and selfless enough to run a modernized Japan. All teachers took on the status of civil servants of the imperial state. Even teachers at the numerous, privately run high schools and colleges could be characterized as 'quasi-civil servants'.

For nationalists in the Meiji and Taishou periods, the desires of the individual had to be subordinated to the needs of the traditional household, legitimate civil government, and the national development state. Rights such as freedoms of speech, conscience, and assembly were not so much positive rights as they were limited privileges granted to loyal subjects by the government, at the top of which sat the emperor.

Still, in the period from the Meiji Restoration up through the 1920s, the Japanese version of academic freedom was considered vital to intellectual inquiry and scientific progress--key components of national development. The fight for academic freedom resulted in some victories when university professors criticized government policy and survived calls for their dismissal. Up to the end of the Taishou era (1912-26), most professors and lecturers singled out for expressing 'dangerous thoughts' (usually about the government or the emperor) were allowed to retain their posts.

Typically, those who got into trouble had tried to use modern social science to analyze the imperial system or its related religion, 'state Shinto'. Though most academics were not this brave, the few scholars who were might lose their academic posts and face severe ostracism. At least in terms of punishment, the only offense that could be worse would be to pursue Marxist analysis. Marxists could be imprisoned.

From the late 1920s onwards, Japan slid increasingly into authoritarian rule and militarism. University professors could be forced to resign their positions and find their works banned.

Post-war Japan--rupture or continuity?

One argument says that the overwhelming loss and destruction of the war, combined with American occupation and reconstruction, led to a total rupture from early modern Japan. The argument then continues that this embrace of American concepts of government, society, and individual rights re-created Japan as Asia's most liberal, western nation, with a war-renouncing constitution to keep things that way.

An opposing view, however, holds that conservative-nationalist resistance to outside power helped much less liberal elements re-assert control over the political economy of Japan. The conclusion of this interpretation of post-war Japan is that human rights are not well-protected, especially for anyone or any group not viewed as 'Japanese'.

Academic freedom, a positive right in the constitution

Academic freedom is now firmly established as a positive right in Japan. It has been since the Occupation government promulgated what many legal scholars and historians have described as a 'liberal' and 'enlightened' constitution in 1946. This document, along with fundamental laws creating a somewhat Americanized education system, took effect in 1947, a year when most Japanese were desperately struggling to feed, clothe, and house themselves.

In the constitution, academic freedom took its place alongside the more commonly stated rights of 'freedom of speech', 'thought', 'conscience', 'assembly' and 'association'. Chapter III (Rights and Duties), Article 23 states, 'Academic freedom is guaranteed.' Academic freedom exists undeniably as a 'positive' right in constitutional law. The question is, Has it become a right in practice, such as through case law (legal precedents) in favor of wronged academics and enlightened institutional policies?

In higher education, a national system of control under the ministry of education prevails, although it is nowhere near as complete as the government hold on primary and secondary education. Nationalist conservatives (including so-called independent 'reformers') have run the central government since the end of the occupation, with only two short-lived socialist intervals.

This exposes Japan's academia as somewhat left of the politicians who head the government that attempts to oversee and subsidize endeavors in research, scholarship, and teaching.
In addition to providing continuity, bureaucrats in the ministry of education act as a buffer between university academics and politicians because overall they hold a wider ranging set of philosophies and opinions on education and universities than the elected and appointed leadership.

If academic freedom is looked at from the perspective of freedom to teach, do scholarship or research within a specialty, then academics at national and public universities in Japan are given considerable latitude. They do not have to conform to a national curriculum or use ministry-approved textbooks. Compared to corporate researchers, many at universities and national research centers can pursue pure research and abstract theory, regardless of immediate applications or returns on investment.

Academic freedom and labor policies

Most cases that concern, at least in part, 'academic freedom' in Japan play themselves out in labor negotiations, case arbitration, and the courts. This is because academic freedom is often said to be violated when universities and their program are accused of not giving a justifiable reason when demoting, financially penalizing, firing, dismissing or not renewing the contract of teaching or research personnel.

Unless tasked with administrative and committees, some academics get to spend most of their time doing research and scholarship. The national universities especially are staffed with large numbers of people whose main job is somehow connected to research, not teaching.

Other academics get to teach advanced-level courses using the content they prefer (no matter how idiosyncratic), running small seminars for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students that are much closer to the sort of narrow specialties that scholarly academics prefer. If a university teacher of this second type demonstrates enough success at research and scholarship at a specialty, he or she may be given the chance to join the group who do little or no teaching.

A third type of faculty consists of those who have to do most of the lower-level teaching, right down to the so-called 'service' courses of general education required of first and second year students. This system is filled out by large numbers of part-time teachers usually teaching in general education as well. People in this third lower tier are most often involved in claims over breach of the right of academic freedom. While they tend to have much less academic freedom because of the constraints of their teaching assignments, they are also the most likely to have their salaries cut or their positions reassigned or terminated.

Troubles at Tokyo Metropolitan University

Take the example of Tokyo Metropolitan University, the highest-ranking public (not national) university in Japan Because of troubled finances at many local governments, starting in 2005, public universities (86 total) were put into process of consolidating and corporatizing along the lines of the national universities (all 87 were corporatized in the period 2003-4).

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government had been proposing since 2003 the establishment of a new public university corporation through been the consolidation of four existing institutions into one: the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology, Tokyo Metropolitan University of Health Sciences, and Tokyo Metropolitan College were supposed to be merged with the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan University.

Many of the faculty at the institutions affected have objected vociferously to the proposed imposition of performance-based pay and five-year contracts. Those who objected also refused to sign agreements for course assignments, which the administration needed in order to apply to the national government for approval in establishing the re-chartered public university corporation.

The 100 professors and lecturers who have refused to agree to re-assignment demanded, among other things, that faculty councils retain control of teaching appointments and that full-time teachers not be forced to submit to the five-year contracts. Many in the current faculties object to the proposed heavier load of introductory level classes with larger numbers of students to teach and evaluate. They understandably wish to avoid being put into that third tier of contractual or provisionally employed teachers.

Although the national universities were forced to lead the way in privatization and corporatization, the plan to combine public institutions in Tokyo is considered a model case which could be applied as 'best practice' for management in the reorganization and streamlining of both public and former national universities nationwide. The proposals for 3-5-year contracts and merit pay for teachers have drawn special attention.

Actually, the contract-merit system that the Tokyo Metropolitan government is now attempting to impose on the teaching faculties of its universities and colleges comes from a plan put forward at national research centers and at the former national universities in order to 'invigorate' government-funded research. It most likely originates from private industry and private universities (who were the first to use merit-based contracts for educators).

This is the so-called 'tokunin' system whereby researchers sign contracts (often five years for researchers, but often three years for teachers). Renewal--leading to a possible career track position--depends upon a review process and successful results, such as the development of patents and commercial applications stemming from the initial period of research. However, it is questionable whether such a system is the most appropriate for the professional development of university teachers, nor is it clear how their performance under such a 'tokunin' system can be effectively and objectively evaluated.

The goings-on at national universities

The administrations of former national universities (now National University Corporations or NUCs), however, have appeared to be reluctant to propose such a system for MOST of their teaching personnel. That reluctance changed only recently, and the largely powerless foreign lecturers became precedent-setting example. For example, as of April 2005, University of Kobe, a former national university, adopted a contract system for its foreign lecturers, limiting them to a three-year contract and no automatic renewals (though they would be allowed to compete for the position should it be re-opened to new candidates).

Private universities and the plight of foreign nationals

The policies and practices that affect the academic freedom and employment rights of foreign nationals within Japan's extensive private system of universities and two-year colleges (together totaling 984 institutions) vary so much as to make concise generalizations nearly impossible. It is an understatement to say that a broad range of situations is possible.

At one extreme, discrimination is obviously rampant: unlike their full-time Japanese counterparts, who have not been forced onto contracts, foreign personnel at many private universities and colleges might (1) face arbitrary dismissal, (2) have one- or three-year contracts with strict renewal limits imposed, (3) receive lower salaries, no bonuses and higher pay cuts, (4) be barred from meetings where decisions are made, and (5) be denied health insurance and retirement benefits (since employers try to avoid bearing their share of the fees for the national scheme).

Any charge of nationwide discrimination, however, has to be qualified because the administrations of some private universities and colleges are so dictatorial and their unions so weak that even Japanese nationals can face similarly severe employment conditions and unfair labor practices. Moreover, the very numerous part-time personnel--who often do more teaching than full-time faculty, regardless of nationality--have very little control over their job situations and fewer employment rights or benefits.

Pork barrel boondoggle in the Ryukyu Islands?

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology: Pork barrel boondoggle in the Ryukyu Islands?
by Charles Jannuzi


In December 2006, the Japanese government (at the ministry level) decided to put the construction and certification of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) on a privileged fast track. The OIST was conceived in the 1990s and put forward as an official proposal in June 2002 to help mark the 30th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa from US control to become the 48th prefecture of Japan. Its proponents within the national government and in Okinawa had hoped that the proposed institute would open for teaching and research by September 2006--or earlier. That target has long been been missed, and efforts to speed up the process have been clouded by serious oversight issues involving the specification of research program, taught curriculum, and codes and regulations. Construction of the campus, currently in progress, could also cause considerable environmental destruction because of its location in what is now a communal forest near the coast.

Lack of realistic proposals and little innovation

Initially, a predictably low and unrealistic estimate of $600 million was put forward as the amount required to build, furnish and staff the campus and its research facilities. Also according to the original proposal, annual bloc grants of $160 million were supposed to guarantee the minimum necessary to run OIST, with more possible based on competitive awards and infusions from the private sector . However, from the very start of the project, skeptics thought the amounts were too low while some also questioned the appropriateness of placing a graduate university with pretensions of being 'world class' in the rather remote island location of Okinawa.

At the time it was first proposed, this 'new style' university seemed notable for aspects that were supposed to exemplify key reform goals for Japan's tertiary education and research. Such measures included: (1) hiring a non-Japanese scientist of world repute to be the first president, (2) requiring English to be the official language of instruction while also encouraging its use for internal communications, (3) exempting the faculty from civil service status and its onerous duties and restrictions, (4) pursuing ambitious, integrated, multi-disciplinary research and advanced teaching in science and technology, and (5) enrolling top international post-graduates from all over Asia and the world.

However, most of these so-called innovations, at least in theory and policy statements, are no longer so novel if one looks at the 1250 plus universities and colleges already in existence in Japan.

First, amongst the recently privatized (or 'corporatized') national, public and municipal universities and colleges, the faculty are losing their historic civil service status.

Second, about 4% of the 2,810,000 students (nearly 120,000 total) receiving university or college educations are foreign nationals. (The largest group by nationality is from China).

Third, many tertiary institutions have proclaimed that they will pursue multi-disciplinary research and integrated approaches to instruction; the problem is achieving such goals meaningfully and in a sustainable manner while being able to document such achievements to attract world recognition. Only a small handful of universities and institutes in Japan can do this currently, with perhaps only Tokyo University being a 'global brand'.

Fourth, the need for graduate universities catering to research and advanced instruction is already being met. This is because many private and formerly public universities all over Japan have already established new graduate program over the past decade, including doctoral ones. Moreover, three institutions that follow the same mandate given to OIST (graduate and research only) have been established for well over a decade: the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Kanagawa Prefecture (est. 1988), the Japan Advanced Institute for Science and Technology in Ishikawa Prefecture (est. 1992) , and the Nara Institute for Science and Technology in Nara Prefecture (est. 1993).

Scaling back to what?

OIST's potential for redundancy does not end there. The once expansive plans for a multi-disciplinary approach in pioneer sciences have been scaled back to three faculties: a Faculty of Neuroscience, a Faculty of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, and a Faculty of Molecular Sciences. The areas of research and instruction that might be pursued by these faculties are already well represented by established research universities and institutes all over Japan, most especially at the 87 newly corporatized National University Corporations (NUCs) as well as the numerous incorporated research institutes funded by the current 5-year plan for science and technology that started in April 2006.

Little consideration of what Okinawans might need or want

A final aspect of OIST that deserves attention is the role it might play in regional development. While proposed as a way to kick start reform and innovation in tertiary education and research, it also could be seen as just another example of unnecessary expenditure in unreformed Japan. That is, it is still yet another hugely expensive infrastructure project initiated by the national government in a country and prefecture that have had no shortage of them. So why is the national government now all but guaranteeing that this new graduate university will at least make it into a campus form, regardless of whether or not the faculty, program, research laboratories, or students even exist? The answer may not be so much a desire for sustainable reform as it is 'pork barrel' spending as a sop to scientists and Okinawans, the sort of which has ballooned the government's annual deficits to 7-8% of GDP.

Okinawa, Japan's smallest, most southernmost, and most densely populated prefecture, is really a group of islands that still are the historic center of a distinct Ryukuan language and culture. Since Japan emerged as Asia's first developed country and the world's number two political economy, Okinawa has often lagged behind in its economic development. The biggest reason is that it only reverted to Japan's control in 1972. But Japanese attitudes toward the prefecture can be prejudicial and unhelpful, since they are somewhat analogous to how Northern Italians view their country's South.

Okinawa's economic woes have been made worse by the end of Japan's bubble economy of the late 1980s and the last decade and a half of nationwide economic stagnation. Moreover, since 2001, the prefecture's mainstay, its tourism industry (developed mostly for vacationers from the four main islands of Japan), has been hard hit as well. There is a specific connection here because Okinawa is seen as an essential part of the projection of US military power in Asia and worldwide. Many Okinawans simmer with resentment over the huge US military presence in their homeland. US bases still occupy 20% of usable land, which is already in short supply. As the US government and military pursue their worldwide 'war against terrorism', there have only very recently been any concessions at all that could lead to any significant reduction in the military presence in Okinawa. Moreover, much of that 'reduction' in the south of the main island will actually lead to a corresponding base expansion in the north of the island.

A suggestion

Given the advantages to tourism that Okinawa's island settings, sub-tropical climate and distinct Ryukyuan culture create, the OIST project could use a major re-think to avoid a boondoggle. That could be avoided, if it is not too late to set up a far different sort of institution and faculties at the campus that will almost surely get built. Instead of a graduate university for advanced research and integrated teaching, Okinawa and its neighbors in S. Korea, Taiwan, China, and SE Asia (all of which Okinawa has historic and cultural ties to) might instead be better served by an Asian institute for eco-friendly tourism, travel, and hotel and restaurant management.

Japan aims for 'world class' universities

Japan aims for 'world class' universities
by Charles Jannuzi


The government of Japan is pushing for a consolidation and revitalization of the university system, formulating specific targets. Of the hundreds of universities here, 30 are supposed to emerge competitively as truly 'world-class' institutions. From amongst this group of 30, a very select group of five are supposed to attain a top 30 global ranking. And at the top of this super group of five, one of these must make it into the global top 10.

The elite among the masses

Japan has a total of over 1250 universities, junior colleges, and technical colleges. This higher education sector is only exceeded in size and scope in the developed world by the US system (although developing China is gaining fast on both). In terms of its impact on society and the workplace, the system is unsurpassed in the non-Anglophone world. However, despite the enormous size, this system can only boast of one university in the top 20 of major global rankings--University of Tokyo or 'Toudai' for short.

Toudai is joined on an expanded list of the top 100 by only a handful of universities, such as the University of Kyoto, the University of Osaka, the University of Tohoku, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. All but one of these dominant institutions have their roots in the former imperial university system of the pre-war period, and all are former national universities in the post-war period, with denationalization taking effect in spring 2004.

The population of high school graduates has declined drastically since the mid-1990s. Because of the decline, advisers to the government have said that a drastic reduction in the number of institutions is necessary. For example, some have said that the number of four-year universities ought to be halved by 2020 through consolidations, mergers and campus closures.

Thirty makes a nice round figure

Along with the goal to consolidate and eliminate over-capacity in the higher education sector, the government has pushed for a thorough revitalization of the university system. It has formulated specific targets to indicate how success will be measured. Of the hundreds of universities, 30 are supposed to emerge competitively as truly 'world-class' institutions. From amongst this group of 30, a very select group of five are supposed to attain a top 30 global ranking. And at the top of this super group of five, one of these must make it into the global top 10.

Reformers are pushing for a down-sized system that can compete globally in terms of (1) taught programs beyond the undergraduate level, (2) quantity and quality of basic and applied research, and (3) independence and diversity in financial resources, such as endowments and investment trusts. These ambitious goals far from being realized system wide, though a well-positioned core of around 50 universities and institutes has emerged as historically and geographically set to flourish in the newly liberalized, competitive environment.

If five universities in Japan could get into the top 30 of major global rankings in the very near future, the most likely candidates would have to be the following: University of Tokyo, University of Kyoto, University of Osaka, University of Tohoku, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and possibly the University of Tsukuba. It is no coincidence that four are former imperial universities, and all are former national universities.

What factors are vital to universities in Japan if they hope to get into or stay in the domestic top 30 of 'world-class' institutions? Here is what to look for when trying to determine their chances. The contenders (whether former national, public, or private) must have all of the following:

--a college of science, engineering and technology,
--graduate schools to the doctoral level,
--a college of medicine or pharmacology,
--at least one subsidized, government-designated' Centre of Excellence',
--a subsidized, government-designated 'Venture Business Laboratory',
--a subsidized, government-designated 'International Headquarters'.

Centres of Excellence

The national government has tried hard to help institutions attain world-class status. For example, there is the nationwide establishment of research-oriented 'Centres of Excellence' (COEs), mostly at the former national universities and a few elite private ones. Any university or institute that hoped for future top-30 ranking might have helped its case by winning the right to host one or more of the COEs.

The COEs now in place across the nation are supposed to focus their activities on doctoral and post-doctoral research and scholarship. Their impact in improving universities may take longer than the government hopes. Capable researchers already at work in the relative safety of existing 'laboratories' (co-operating research and teaching groups) have been reluctant to join the new centres. In part, this is because the COEs have no long record of results and often lack a 'sempai' (older mentor) for a younger researcher to work under. Meanwhile, post-doctoral researchers from abroad with only survival level Japanese, such as those on EU stipends, have found many of the centers unable to function with English as a common language for communication.

To encourage further competition amongst elite institutions for research money, in fiscal year 2007 the Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) also established a new program, the 'World Premier International Research Center Initiative' (WPI). So far, only the most predictable former national universities going back to the old imperial system (and some national research laboratories) have been rewarded; namely, Tokyo University, Kyoto University, Tohoku University and Osaka University.

Venture Business Laboratories

Only universities and institutes that can conduct research and scholarship at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels can host a COE. So universities of all types are now trying a more bottom-up strategy to raise funds and earn sustainable income: venture businesses (VBs).

By 2004 close to a thousand VBs (most at research institutes and universities) were in operation, with a record 179 created in 2003 alone. Clusters of VBs have sprung up in the urban areas, such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. Unwilling to leave things to geographic chance, the national government has also funded 45 'venture business laboratories' (VBLs) nationwide, with many at regional second- and third-tier universities and institutes with faculties of science and technology.

Under the auspices of the VBLs, many of the VBs are joint ventures between a university and a group of investors or a company. Up until recently co-operation between universities and private enterprise usually put a top university in Japan into a tie-up with a top company in Japan. However, the climate of university reform in Japan has not gone unnoticed abroad. Most notably, in mid-2005, the US software giant, Microsoft, announced it would set up and finance a 'collaboration network', signing up a group of top universities and academics for joint research in IT as well as other areas of science. This adds a significant presence of Japanese universities in Microsoft's multi-billion dollar efforts to do overseas research.

Raising international profiles

One aspect a university being able to call itself 'world-class university' is whether or not its activities have an international profile. Japan's university system and its approach to academic endeavors outside of science and technology are often seen as insular and peculiarly Japanese.

In 2005 in order to promote 'internationalization' and 'globalization', the Japanese government created a fund to aid universities in setting up 'international headquarters'. Up until now, international exchange has most often meant Japanese institutions sponsoring and hosting scholars and scientists from overseas. Japanese universities had very little presence overseas.

Sixty-eight universities, both public and private, applied for the funds and an elite 20 were selected. This list of 20 deemed ready for exchange and research abroad is also representative of the very same universities that aspire for world-class status and global ranking.

As completely expected, at the top of the list of the 20 chosen for sanction and subsidy to expand overseas is University of Tokyo. Toudai, the 'Harvard of the East', was quick to sign a deal with a top university in the US--not Harvard, but rather its Ivy League rival, Yale. On November 2 last year, the two universities officially began the 'Initiative for Japanese Studies' as part of a much broader agreement for collaboration and exchange.

Venture Business Laboratory (VBL) on Univ. of Fukui NUC campus.

New high rise building that houses Univ. of Fukui's Center of Excellence

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