19 July 2008

Call for ONE MILLION foreign students in higher education in Japan

Note: The Japan HEO Blog is currently in a 'hold' status, perhaps appropriate for the summer doldrums and the swell of work at the end of a university term (which is at the end of July).

In August-September, if I have successfully moved my office in early August, you can reasonably expect a finish to the three-part series on the demographic decline of Japan vis-a-vis university enrollments, as well as the 10-part series on 'Why English fails'. About the latter series, I am currently working on reason number 6, in which universities will face some harsh criticism. About the former, the article on 'demographic decline', that has been completed but requires some harsh, critical editing of its own before it is fit for publication.

Call for ONE MILLION foreign students in higher education in Japan

Japan Times published an article in June that was titled, 'Fukuda gets report on boosting immigrants'.

Basically, the plan (really a set of group-written suggestions marred by inconsistency and lack of coherence) calls for the government of Japan to stabilize the current population by increasing immigration to the extent that immigrants would comprise around 10% of the population by the year 2060. Japan's population is said to have peaked at somewhere between 127-8 million, with the total number of males already registering declines. Given the extremely low birth rate of around 1.3, demographic decline (without expansive immigration) is being predicted as inevitable.

Taking a cue from Australia apparently, some Japanese policy advisers who have the attention of the currently unpopular prime minister hope to use the overly large university system as a tool to manage immigration, and vice versa. That is, they are calling for a near ten-fold increase in the number of foreign students in further and higher education, from the currently stagnant 120,000 or so, to a world-beating level of 1 million by the year 2025.

This could help many universities, colleges and polytechnics which are facing stagnant or declining enrollments annually in the face of ever smaller high school graduate cohorts. In the long term, it is hoped apparently that many highly educated and skilled immigrants would stay in Japan, as, for example, many Chinese do once they go to Australia for graduate and professional degrees.

However, a few issues are glaring in their omission.

First, the Japanese university system is simply not prepared to teach, train or involve in research large numbers of Asian students (or any other foreign national) in any language except Japanese. Talk of using English to teach classes and whole programs in English is mostly just empty talk--so far. But this might just be what would be required if 1 out of 3 students are going to be non-Japanese (unless Japan could also increase its ability to teach Japanese to non-natives to the level required for university study). A related problem is that most Asian students are not prepared to study abroad in English--and Japan would be the last place on earth most would consider going to in order to improve their English!

Second, the current higher education system already produces a surplus of graduates (most Japanese of course) who are supposed to be skilled at the level of a technician, engineer, or the Japanese equivalent of a 'liberal arts' major (who for years swelled the ranks of the ever-swelling civil servant corps and academia--many of whom were also civil servants in the national and public university systems). Post-Koizumi, however, the civil servant corps is as stagnant as university enrollments, and academia's declining need for professors (especially male ones) is a direct reflection of those stagnant university enrollments as well as the fiscal move to privatize and streamline national and public universities.

But Japanese employers are hoping for an influx of cheap, exploitable, unskilled labor willing to accept physical labor and harsh working conditions that most Japanese would balk at. Perhaps there is one main area on which the expressed desires for skilled, educated foreign immigrants and the 'needs' of the current job market of Japan's capitalist political economy will converge. That would be medicine, specifically nursing. Japan's numerous hospitals need nurses to help take care of the aging population, and they will needs many more in the next 50 years. Again, however, it must be pointed out that language difficulties and cultural differences could cause many more problems than Japanese policy makers have anticipated.

Two key excerpts follow, an then a link to the full article at Japan Times.

Key quote 1

>>Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party submitted a bold report Friday to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, calling for Japan to increase its foreign residents to up to 10 percent of the nation's population in the next 50 years.<<end of excerpt

Key quote 2

>>Suggestions in the newest proposal include forming a plan to have 1 million foreign students in Japan by 2025, nurturing talent through education and professional training, and providing opportunities to live and work in Japan.<<end of excerpt

Fukuda gets report on boosting immigrants


Follow up to 'Try free open-source run-anywhere software'

In follow up to some of the suggested software

1. You can run Google Docs offline -- integrated onto a desktop and within your browser program (an advanced form of Firefox or Explorer) -- if you download Google 'Gears'.


2. Using the new Google Docs templates can speed up using Google Docs as a word processor or presentation program to create files with heavier formatting.


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