20 September 2010

ARWU rankings somewhat kinder to Japan

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), out of Shanghai, China, has its merits: it comes out in August, and when differences across universities are not statistically significant, it places them in a tie rather than letting the chips arbitrarily fall where they may.

This year's list is somewhat kinder to Japanese universities, which clearly still dominate their designated region, the Asia-Pacific.

Full information is at the links below. The quoted material after the links highlights how Japanese institutions did in the top 200. Nine make the list. To summarize, Todai/U. of Tokyo is number 20 worldwide and top in Japan and Asia. Japan's number 2, Kyodai/Kyoto U., is still in the top 30 at a respectable 24.

Despite all the government money now going to Waseda and Keio, no private university is in the top 200 (the main weakness: science and technology). This is really a list of elite national universities (now 'national university corporations' or 'NUCs') in Japan. However, it is important to note that most NUCs are not elite, and it's interesting that the top universities in Taiwan and S. Korea were also national universities (of Japan--national imperial universities!).   



in top 100

20 The University of Tokyo Asia/Pacific 1

24 Kyoto University Asia/Pacific 2

75 Osaka University Asia/Pacific 6

79 Nagoya University Asia/Pacific 7

84 Tohoku University Asia/Pacific 8

in top 200


101-150 Tokyo Institute of Technology Asia/Pacific 10-18

151-200 Hokkaido University Asia/Pacific 19-26

151-200 Kyushu University Asia/Pacific 19-26

151-200 University of Tsukuba Asia/Pacific 19-26

19 September 2010

Should the JET Programme be axed?

Should the JET Programme be axed?
by Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui
(and JET Programme ALT 1989-1992)

The JET Programme (official site: http://www.jetprogramme.org/index.html ) is a teaching and cultural exchange program in Japan that brings over 4400 people from overseas (for a detailed breakdown of the stats, see: http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/statistics.html ). It then places most of them as 'assistant language teachers' (ALTs) in middle schools and high schools all across the country. While there are a small number of people from countries where English is a foreign language (officially 36 countries participate), and there are posts for 'coordinators for international relations' (CIRs), who specialize in things like translation, the vast majority of JET Programme participants are natives of an anglophone country, young adults, recent graduates from university, and they will team teach as ALTs.

There has been a lot of discussion online and in newspapers recently about the purposes and usefulness of the JET Programme because the program is quite likely to be either drastically cut or eliminated altogether. In terms of money spent and personnel employed, JET is already past its earlier peaks anyway.

It should be noted that discussions like this one here at ELT in Japan are usually held because the rationale for the program is being questioned--indeed, its reason for being has always been questioned, since the program's inception 25 years ago, back in the bubble 80s. However, these sorts of discussions have no effect on whether or not the program is increased, maintained, curtailed or eliminated. Rather such disucssions are more like: Who do you think will win the World Cup next time? We are spectators who must speculate.

Defenders of the program have often argued that, even if the JET Programme is relatively low impact in terms of teaching and language learning, its main goal is something called 'cross- cultural exchange' (or often 'cross-cultural understanding'). One problem with this notion is that it is difficult to pin down just what that is or how to quantify it (even roughly quantify it). Since the program only employs people by the few thousand and scatters them thinly across the country, that really doesn't seem to be much of a population for cross-cultural exchange compared to the large numbers of Chinese, for example, who have come to Japan to work or attend school.

Another problem with the idea of the JET Program as 'cultural exchange' is that it supports a major prejudice that pervades Japan and its thinking about the rest of the world. That is, for Japan, cross-cultural exchange consists of maintaining good relations with anglophone countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

A last weakness in the cultural defense of the program could be stated thus: Isn't the whole idea of foreign language education based, at least in part, on the rationale of furthering cultural understanding? So wouldn't the needs of cross-cultural exchange be met equally or better by emphasizing foreign language teaching and learning?

I predict that the ongoing economic, monetary and fiscal crises that Japan has will lead to the JET Programme being abolished or cut to a size that most will forget the program exists. However, I would like to hope that the program could be revised or transformed so that something worthwhile could be scraped up from the ashes.

Japan as a country needs a foreign policy independent of the hegemon, the United States. Perhaps a step towards that would be to achieve some sort of real mutual understanding with the rest of Asia (including Russia). This could also be expanded to include non-anglophone countries all around the world, but perhaps most significantly Latin America and Africa. However, the economic and cultural significance of developed and developing Europe (outside of the UK) would justify as much a focus as the US or the UK or other developed English-speaking countries get now in Japan in terms of 'international relations' and cross-cultural exchange. 

With that in mind, the JET Programme could be revised to something along these lines: It should become a true EXCHANGE program of EFL and foreign language teachers, from the primary to the university level. For example, language teachers from China, S. Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Italy, Russia, etc. come to Japan for one year. Japanese EFL and foreign language teachers go abroad and work in schools in such countries for one year.

All this is not to say that the current JET Programme (or its antecedents) has been a failure.    It is not really a matter for me to judge. I am only offering here an idea that might help make such exchange a venture with a deeper educational impact.

If the JET program has failed, it seems most likely just another aspect of Japan's inability to reform and improve foreign language education at all levels of education. If the ALTs comprise a 'token foreign element' at public and private schools in Japan, the same thing could be said for the foreign nationals teaching EFL at the thousands of universities and colleges in Japan. So if Japan, its education system, and its government can not come to a collective understanding of what they need in terms of foreign language education, THAT--as has been made clear to me numerous times--is a matter for Japan and the Japanese.


Note: for more detailed statistics and facts about the JET Programme, see the following sources:

Yomiuri Newspaper reports 54% of Japan's PhDs unemployed.

However, online Yomiuri articles are quickly 'firewalled' so Japan HEO will look for corroborating articles at other sources, such as Kyodo, Japan Times, etc.

The 54% refers to those who finished a PhD and joined the already dismal job market this spring.

In a nutshell, the trends with PhDs in Japan are: (1) most hope to get a post in Japanese academia and/or a government-funded research institute (most of which overlap significantly with academia here), (2) there simply isn't enough growth in jobs to match the increase in PhDs, (3) companies have always been reluctant to hire PhDs (too old, speciality irrelevant, etc.) while they have given up on more and more research due to the two-decade-long bad economy, (4) more and more PhDs have to settle for jobs that do not require a PhD and/or are outside the speciality of the degree holder.

Some background reading is available at these two Nature.com articles:

Scientists to spare

Employing Japan's postdocs


Japanese universities do even worse with THES world rankings

In the new THES global rankings, Japan higher education only manages to place 5 universities in the top 200. No institution in Japan makes the top 10 or 20. Only one university makes the top 30--that is Toudai/University of Tokyo. No private universities placed. Kyoudai/Kyoto University's rank of 57 seems out of place because we are used to seeing Kyoudai as a top 30 institution in the old THES-QS tables. These results are even more disappointing than the QS results summarized and posted here last week. Also, China has placed SIX institutions in the top 200--a result that will be interpreted as China overtaking Japan in still yet another area. On the other hand, the top university in China, Beijing University, has yet to crack the top 30.

See the full list of 200 and total score at the link below. The excerpt after that shows only the Japanese universities that made it into the top 200.


26    University of Tokyo  

57    Kyoto University  

112    Tokyo Institute of Technology  

130    Osaka University

132    Tohoku University  

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