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?")

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. .

10 February 2008

Demographic Disaster for Higher Ed in Japan? Part I

Demographic Disaster for Higher Education in Japan?
Part I

by Charles Jannuzi


This will be a three-part series for the Japan HEO Blog. This first installment will be a short introduction of the series and then follow with an analysis of Anglophone news coverage of Japan. This is, after all, an English-language blog on Japan.

Part two will consist of analysis of recent articles which appeared in the FT, New York Times, Guardian and Kyodo News Service which have covered the 'demographic disaster' that is supposed to be looming over higher education in Japan. Going straight to the strong points of the argument for a disaster scenario for HE in Japan, I will try to point out some of the flaws and gaps in the analysis.

The third and final part, which will most likely appear late in March 2008 (when the single correspondent of the Japan HEO Blog doesn't have to teach classes), I will put forth a different analysis in an attempt to answer the puzzling question, "Why, if high school graduate and university-eligible populations are in steady and unrecoverable decline, is Japan building still yet more universities?" Does someone in the HE sector here know something that everyone else doesn't? Or are they delusional?

Representational stereotypes and monomaniacal theses

When Japan gets covered in the English-language media there have been and there continues to be the following tendencies:

1. Japan as perfected capitalism.

In the run up to the era of 'big bang' deregulation and globalization, American business figures and journalists would often present Japan to American audiences as some sort of contrasting ideal in management practices, government-business-labor relations, and quality control of industrial production. America was supposed to learn from the Japanese how to make better products.

This pattern of representation has largely passed. For one thing, I think the historical consensus is that American companies will never be able to make automobiles to match Japanese or European ones. To be fair to America, one could point out that America pioneered modern aircraft production to go along with air travel on the scale that makes world tourism possible (even though much of this has been subsidized by the US's commitment to keeping an overly large military projecting naval power and air power, quartered all over the world) .

2. Japan as failed capitalism, just waiting to sink into the Pacific Ocean.

One variation of this thesis says that Japan was never really free-market capitalist in the first place. It only succeeded because the US sponsored it as its 'island battleship' against communism on the Asian mainland. Alternatively, Japan became an industrialized, developed, affluent country by practicing predatory mercantilism.

These variations lead to all sorts of convoluted but poorly thought out arguments because it is either pro-capitalist, free market liberals who end up making such arguments about Japan or trade-protectionist, nationalist populists. This leads to the conclusion that mercantilism is wrong (or right), bad (or good), predatory (or self-preservationist) and does (or doesn't work)-- depending on whether you are an economic liberal or an economic nationalist. The economic nationalists tend toward populism, strong state interventionism, even militarism and, at least in theory, fascism in proposing solutions to their perceived national malaise.

At any rate, such monomaniacal theses about Japan are almost an industry among a set of under-worked, over-educated American academics and intellectual-type journalists dead set on committing metaphysical suicide.

Still, the least complicated version of this line of reasoning goes like this:

Since 1989 the Japanese just can't seem to do anything right. They couldn't match the productivity gains or the profitability of dynamic go-go US capitalism (especially in high tech and in the service sector). It's only a matter of time before Japan COLLAPSES.

This representation of Japan in the English-language press has had over a decade of popularity. But as it has turned out (drearily, predictably), US gains in productivity were largely a phantom effect of an economy taken over by speculative bubbles in just about any asset class that exists or could be created.

The fallacy of this sort of analysis is really just the mirror image of the number 1 above. For you see, one reason why Japan looked like such a successful case of capitalism in the 1980s was its speculative bubble economy, which came to a crashing end in that period 1989-1992.

The US is finding out that cheap money, speculative investing--combined with a large whack of military Keynesianism--can indeed produce short-term profitability but not for the historic long term. One can only hope that the management gurus and business writers don't try to revive Japan as a model for reforming post-bubble, post-Bush America.

3. Japan as an ancient, ineffable, exotic Asian culture.

Given the popularity and prevalence of such an approach to writing about Japan, this might seem to be a sure-fire way to sell freelance pieces. But having lived here for over 18 years, I find myself totally incapable of producing this sort of representation of the country. In fact, since my first week in Japan (spent in Shinjuku, Tokyo, in late July 1989, in order to be inducted onto the JET Programme), I have found myself completely unable to write this sort of stuff about Japan. I have never claimed to be any good at fantasy fiction, as much as I enjoy reading it sometimes.

What undercuts any depiction of Japan the exotic is Japan as most have to live it. The country is a resource-poor, over-populated, over-developed, industrialized, now post-industrial nation. For those who live here, except for some remote parts and some artificially created urban pockets, the country is the last thing from ancient or exotic. Much of what people both in this culture and from outside it perceive as ancient are the creations of Meiji Era nationalists.

Perhaps the ideologically exotic aspect that I CAN isolate is this: Japan is a developed, affluent, bourgeois nation but isn't in its core tradition, CHRISTIAN. So much for the Weberian thesis about the Protestant work ethic perhaps? No, Japan is Confucian, Buddhist, and both state and native Shinto (with ethics being a complete, seamless, practical fusion of all these, with a dose of Taoism thrown into the mix). This can really flummox the bourgeoisie of North America, UK or Australia when they encounter Japan as it is.

4. Japan as a strange, even goofy fantasy land of ridiculous people.

This is sort of a corollary of numbers 2 and 3 above. It is essentially chauvinist (if not all out racist) and sees Japan in inferior terms, the butt of jokes among the OECD members club. But such racism neuters Japan and plays down its potential harmfulness as an 'out nation' and 'rogue state' in the Christian bourgeois, free market universe. It also doesn't relentlessly lead to some conclusion that Japan will fail and end up in the dust bin of western bourgeois-written histories.

Japan and Japanese are simply here for our amusement. Laugh at them in all their ridiculousness.

At least in the case of the US (and perhaps Canada), the thing that most undercuts this sort of view is BASEBALL (not sumo). If Japan is such a goofy, funny country, how did they produce Ichiro and Daisuke? Was it steroids, human growth hormone and off-season weight training with Clemens? Still, if you want to sell a freelance piece about Japan, NEVER, EVER underestimate the willingness of editors to buy and readers to consume this sort of nonsense.

Conclusion and a look ahead to Part Two

I have argued that western and foreign views about Japan tend to fall into discernible patterns, which I have attempted to outline above. I would also argue that part of the reason so much outside analysis of Japan gets stuck on such monomaniacal, pseudo-social scientific nonsense is that the Japanese themselves are responsible. (Contributing to this though is the American penchant for believing in so much pseudo-social scientific nonsense, much of it they 'learned' at university.)

My sense is that most Japanese have little understanding of the nations and cultures they trade with, including their preferred 'Anglophone' partners (US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand), Europe or the rest of Asia. This makes the Japanese true citizens of this troubled world. Also, many Japanese really do think that their country is 'uniquely unique', even as they marvel at how weird, strange and dangerous other countries and cultures are when contrasted to the 'civilized normality' of their own.

It could also be said that much of what outsiders do in shaping stereotypes of Japan is simply what outsiders do to all the countries and cultures they experience but barely understand (because of the language and cross-cultural bottlenecks to the exchange of real information and knowledge).

In the case of the 'demographic decline' trend for HE in Japan, the problem is we get locked into obsessively uninformed analysis of Japan. Any thesis that says that the higher ed sector in Japan is going to collapse--along with the rest of the country--because all Japanese women only bear 1.3 children in their lifetimes isn't going to make for very interesting or informative analysis. After all, Japan's higher education is actually STILL EXPANDING. And most institutions are planning on surviving and taking steps accordingly. In the next installment--Part II--we will look at the FT, NYT, Guardian, and Kyodo articles and see how their analysis is blinded by stereotypes and flawed by a lack of real information about Japan and its higher education.

Back to top

Back to top
Click on logo to go back to top page.