08 March 2008

Getting Information on Japan's Higher Education IN ENGLISH

Getting Information on Japan's Higher Education IN ENGLISH
by Charles Jannuzi

If you are limited to researching Japan's higher education (or any other topic about Japan) in English, you will be able to access only a fraction of the information that is available in Japanese on the Japanese WWW. Information in English tends to be out-of-date and incomplete, which leads to the duplication and proliferation of errors in the western/global media.

Still, I have concentrated on English-language sources in my links from this blog out to the wider web, and I have been consistently surprised by the amount of news, information and analysis that is available if you know where and how to look.

Perhaps the most useful are the topical, fresh translations from the Japanese press that make it into the handful of Japan's English-language newspapers and news services. More recently, the web-based news aggregation sites (such as Japan Probe, Japan Today, NewsOnJapan, and Japan Herald) help to make that information even more accessible and discoverable through search of the WWW or news (such as YahooNews).

However, if you wish to pursue more systematic and in-depth research (such as for academic purposes or your own journalism or blog), then the single best source of information on education in Japan is the English-language sections of the website of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). One problems is that its website is sprawling and confusing to navigate at first. A second weakness is the English-language content is not near as deep or up-to-date as the body of it in Japanese.

The main reason why MEXT's site is a treasure trove of information that goes beyond a lot of other ministries or government departments, both inside and outside Japan, is MEXT's scale. It really is a 'super-ministry', a combination of cabinet-level management of education with huge science budgets and policies.

Here is a list of some of the best English-language pages to search and read for topics related to higher education / tertiary education / further education in Japan.

1. Education English-language front page of MEXT


2. Front English-language page of MEXT for Higher Education.


3. Stats on Universities and Junior Colleges


4. Stats on Colleges of Technology


5. Stats on Specialized Training Colleges


6. Stats on Miscellaneous Schools


7. Stats on Science and Technology
(which MEXT oversees in the national government)


8. Japan's Education at a Glance 2006
(Guide on entire education system,
previous editions can be download as compiled pdfs)


9. Overview of the structure of the MEXT 'super-ministry'


10. Monthly index of MEXT press releases
(the limited English-language ones, not too frequent unfortunately)


11. Database of Statistics on Japan's Higher Education
at the website of the Research Institute for Higher Education,
Hiroshima University (a high-ranked national university).


02 March 2008

From university research centers to international research hubs?

From university research centers to international research hubs?
by Charles Jannuzi

In the post-bubble Japan of the 1990s, the private sector's ability to finance scientific research and development went into stagnation and then decline. So from 1995 on the government has pursued an expanded role in the management and funding of scientific R&D at annual levels that equal or exceed 1% of GDP. In great part this has been through the dominant role of its super-ministry, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and its five-year 'Science and Technology Basic Plans'.

In order to increase public subsidy of scientific research-- while at the same time forcing research universities and research institutes to compete for funds--MEXT established a 'Centers of Excellence' program. However, this turned out to be a fairly diffuse program, paying for the construction of dozens of new research facilities all over the country at the former national universities and a handful of elite private ones. While this did a lot to help refurbish the appearance of the visibly deteriorated national universities, its actual boost to important scientific results is questionable.

It seems that the ministry was betting on being able 'to seed' indiscriminately a rather large number of projects in many different fields. Critics pointed out that in the process there had been a lack from the top down of any selectivity or a sense of priorities. The MEXT's even-handed beneficence (at least towards its former national universities and some top private institutions, such as Keio U. and Waseda U.) led to the scatter-shot construction of dozens of relatively small-scale facilities hosted by second-tier institutions.

The subsequent dilution of focus and, more importantly, the total amounts of funding did not impress the greater world community of Big Science. Most of the money went into the physical construction of the facilities as opposed actually to funding research. Moreover, it has been difficult for the colleges of science and technology at many universities to staff the new research centers appropriately because they lack long track records of achievement in research. This lack of a history combined with contractual employment seem to be too risky and potentially unstable for many junior careerists.

Under the prerogatives of its third Science and Technology Basic Plan (begun 2006), the MEXT sought to address the issues of a lack of priorities and inadequacy of scale. Most significantly it announced a long-term, deep-pocketed but highly selective program it calls the 'World Premier International Research Center Initiative' (WPIRCI). The WPIRCI was to be a contest that rewarded only FIVE institutions in fiscal year 2007. But the winners will get at least ten years of support (with five year renewals based on documented results). And the funding totals could approach a figure close to USD $60 million. Most importantly, since some support has to come from the host institutions, much of the new funding may actually go towards high-priority research and not be completely exhausted on the construction of new facilities.

The results of the competition were announced and explained in late 2007, with some updates appearing last month (Feb. 2008) . For those who follow scientific research at the (former) national universities and (the former) national research institutes in Japan, the results were quite predictable. Japan's top-ranked research universities, whose establishment goes back to the old imperial system, are the winners. They are Tokyo University, Kyoto University, Tohoku University and Osaka University. The former national research institute, The National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), will also host a new center. NIMS's work in nano-technology and nano-architechtonics is done in partnership with still yet another former national university, University of Tsukuba (a new science university that does not have imperial system roots).

Although the new centers will be hosted by long-established research institutions, they are supposed to break from tradition in at least two ways. First, research and operations will have English as their official language (even if this proves to be impossible in Japan). And they must hire at least 20% foreign nationals. Most likely many of these will be chosen from the foreign nationals already at the institutions doing doctoral or post-doctoral work. Presumably even some Japanese nationals will be forced into a contractual personnel system, with contracts being 5 or 7 years.

According to updated information recently posted at the website of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) <http://www.jsps.go.jp/english/index.html>
the results are:

1. Tohoku University - WPI Advanced Institute for Materials Research
2. The University of Tokyo - Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe
3. Kyoto University - Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences
4. Osaka University - Immunology Frontier Research Center
5. National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) - International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics

Back to top

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