After being given still yet another 'Cook's tour', the OECD's neoliberal ad hoc panel left Japan with their typical neoliberal convictions further entrenched. Outside of such polite circles, talk is that the 'public' is now upset that with the 'big bang' reforms of 2004, surprise surprise, tuition costs went up at the former national and former public universities. And that the reforms have been nothing but an unmitigated disaster while at the same time the predicted demographic disaster has failed to materialize. But the neoliberals of the OECD will just say, "Ah ah, too little too late." Another thing that is happening is that, with the LPD's fall from power, the Ministry of Education is in disarray (more than its usual disarray that is) and the former national universities are headed into financial and fiscal decline.
The full OECD report is available here. JPN HEO will try to analyze the report and write a review in the near future.
It is against this background that, on April 1st 2004, Japanese higher education underwent the kind of ‘big bang’ reform which was unprecedented. Though regarded with some hostility within the universities themselves, there was a widespread political and public sentiment that reform was overdue and that, in comparison with the higher education systems among Japan’s traditional peers in North America, Australasia and Europe, Japanese universities were falling behind. The reforms, at least in their intention, were fundamental and far-reaching. As a result, though a few years have elapsed since the reforms were introduced, their impact is still working its way through. Japanese tertiary education is still in transition. The desired benefits of the reforms are not yet secured and if they do not materialise, both political and public patience is likely to wear thin. There is a widespread demand that the tertiary education system become, via the modernisation agenda embedded in the reforms, more responsive, more agile, more globally competitive and accompanied by higher standards and higher quality all round.
In spite of the pace and scope of change in recent years, much remains to be done. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology begun to change from an organisation accustomed to exercising detailed managerial and financial direction of higher education institutions into one that no longer does so. However, it has not yet fully worked out its new role within the tertiary system, nor has it fully equipped itself with the performance-based information and repertoire of incentives that it needs to monitor and shape the activities of newly autonomous institutions. And, for their part, some higher education institutions appear keen to operate as they long have done, holding fast to the Humboldtian vision of the university and to long-standing institutional practices - with respect to academic careers, to internal resource allocation, and institutional leadership.
As we have outlined in the report, we think university leaders and ministry officials have much to gain from embracing continued change; indeed, that it is the necessary condition for gaining wider public investment in the sector. And, we think that central government authorities and stakeholders outside of government have much to gain from enlisting their support. During the course of our visit we met with men and women - professors, administrators, and civil servants - who clearly grasped the new possibilities that deepened reform makes possible, and who are eager to press forward with change. Working together with patience, trust, and understanding they can ensure that Japan system of tertiary education stands as a model to the entire OECD, and, indeed, the wider world.