26 August 2011

Reply to Taikibansei on the reply to "FACTOID #2: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited? "

Note: the original discussion (now also posted at this blog) is at the url  http://www.debito.org/?p=5503 . True to form, David Aldwinkle refuses to publish my rebuttal of Taikibansei's response to a JPN HEO article on accreditation in Japan. So it is being published here. You are a classy guy David, but so selective in your sense of fairness.

Response to Taikibansei:

1. Thank you for the attempt at corrections and clarifications. I have to point out however that this article was written in 2006 and wasn't published until early 2008. One reason why I created the blog was to get this material out there for people to read and comment on. I'm sorry it took you until 2010 to find it, only after I cross-posted it to Debito.org's site.

2. Next, you commented (your comments in italics):  

Actually, the “pilot” period (including especially the jiko hyouka and evaluations by JUAA) started and finished before 2004. From 2004, everything has been “official.”

Actually I think accreditation had long been official--it just didn't mean anything to most people in Japan. I referred to that first three year period as a 'pilot program' because when I was compiling this information, I realized that there was no way they were ever going to accredit that many institutions if the initial plans were followed. So I viewed this first phase as a a pilot program because, if successful and practical, it would lead to a wider spread national breakout of the process. I didn't think of the self-evaluations as a pilot because I was unclear on how they actually piloted accreditation. As it turns out, that view might have been erroneous because self-evaluation, as I understand it, plays a huge role in accreditation here.

As for which accrediting agency does which type of institution, I don't think I specified in my article. Readers were free, however, to visit the sites of the organizations I listed to find out. During the initial period there was some confusion, and some people had asserted that National and Public University Corporations (NUCs, PUCs) might have freedom to choose if there was a backlog as to how everyone got accredited during the first phases. One reason why some agencies would move across institutional type would simply be that they are better suited for certain types of programs. 

3. Continuing your comments (my material in quotes, to which you are referring, yours in italics):
“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.”

This doesn’t make sense at all. As alluded to above, private universities have been able to “join the accreditation process” from the beginning, and there was never any attempt to exclude anybody. JIHEE’s initial (2004-2006) seminars explaining the process were each attended by 300+ private universities, and it was made very clear then that they (JIHEE) were “ready” to start with the inspections immediately (however, see my comment in the next paragraph). Moreover, private and public universities have been being evaluated in relatively equal numbers each year. Heck, by the end of 2007 (i.e., before your blog entry to the contrary), all the major tertiary institutions in your prefecture (Fukui) had been accredited (Fukui Kenritsu in 2005, Jinai in 2006, Fukui National in 2007, and Fukui Kougyou in 2007). That’s two public, and two private, universities.

Perhaps it doesn't make sense because you failed to understand what I wrote. I never said that private universities were somehow excluded before from accreditation. What I think I was implying was that until recently, they never felt compelled to undergo the process. The national government had largely made accreditation by a non-governmental body voluntary--and therefore unnecessary.  Then when everyone felt compelled, the accrediting agencies seemed unable to cope with having to take on so much work (whereas they had been relatively not busy before). Hence a backlog in audits. When I compiled the information for my original article, I visited the accrediting agencies' sites and looked at their listings of accredited institutions.. The sites hadn't updated much of that information as of early 2008. Perhaps because they were so busy digesting and compiling all that data. I might also add that since the government still certifies institutions as well as the accrediting agencies, it still is the source of 'legitimacy' in HE in Japan.

4. Continuing (you in italics):   

There are two main reasons for the comparatively low number of accreditation evaluations from 2004-2007. First, there just were not enough trained evaluators initially available to allow for an increased number of on-campus inspections. Second, and most importantly, Japan-style accreditation is an extremely grueling, 3-year process–the first year for accruing/organizing the data in the fashion required, the second to begin writing the 100-page houkokusho (and officially apply/pay for the accreditation evaluation), and the third for finishing/submitting the houkokusho and receiving the onsite inspection. Given that most private universities hadn't begun this process before 2004, the absolute earliest (assuming sufficient evaluators were available) most could have received their onsite inspections was 2007. Still, by the end of this year (2010), nearly all of Japan’s universities/tandais will have undergone accreditation evaluations by one of the four accrediting agencies. Indeed, while the actually impact/benefit so far can be questioned, considering the circumstances (and formidable hurdles in place), one can argue that the accreditation PROCESS here has been moving along with admirable speed and grace.

Which leads me to conclude the process wasn't altogether that difficult for most institutions. They basically took their data from their self-evaluations, presented it, received criticisms, addressed those and then got a visit from a small team that probably left knowing little more about the institution that they visited than before they arrived. I agree that most institutions have undergone some sort of accreditation; I would bet it's mostly meaningless.

5. Next (my material in quotes, yours in italics):

“The government also sets enrollment quotas for all certified universities and colleges.”

No, private universities set their own enrollment “quotas”–indeed, as Monkasho now penalizes (by reducing funding) all universities unable to meet enrollment quotas, one strategy increasingly utilized by impacted private universities has been to reduce said intake quotas.

Actually, for years private universities swelled their income by enrolling numbers way beyond their quotas, enabling them to collect more application, admission and tuition fees. Enrollment quotas are set within guidelines published by the government. It is incorrect to say that private universities set their own enrollments without qualification. They set enrollments within published guidelines and subject to government approval. Indeed, the government has used enrollment quotas and funding based on them to control the overall size of higher education in Japan.

The relationship between enrollment quotas and funding works two ways. An institution or program may have a wished-for quota, but it can only go ahead with what it can fund. Do you think that the ministry would impose some sort of probationary status or penalize by reducing funding if they weren't trying to force institutions and departments to reduce their quotas for certain programs while getting them to increase them for others? Also, funding and quotas are matched up with the job market. A quota and/or an enrollment intake now has to be justified on how successful job placement has been for the graduates of a program. 

6. And now for my question–this link you provide, it is to your own private blog, correct? A blog you call “Japan Higher Education Outlook,” right?


7. Next (you in italics, my material in quotes, yours in italics again)

Hate to do this, but assuming you're considering one day trying to publish this blog entry of yours, the following should be corrected as well:

“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.”

JIHEE (specializing in private university accreditation evaluations) has had their evaluation criteria/standards up on their website since at least 2005. (This, actually, is in fact true of all four accrediting agencies.) I.e., there should have been no guesswork involved at all (especially in 2008), and yet the statement above is completely wrong.

I wasn't referring to their published standards. My point was, up until 2004, most universities did not undergo outside accreditation. An external audit would have been more like something a business undergoes. I didn't say external audit for the purpose of accreditation. I'm sorry you misunderstood. Also, JIHEE doesn't necessarily specialize in private universities. If you look at its certification documents, they state that JIHEE accepts as members institutions regardless of their type of foundation. As it turned out, only private institutions have undergone evaluation with JIHEE so far.

As for getting this piece published, it already was published. Much of the material went to Times Higher Education Supplement prior to 2004, in very condensed form. At that time, it was clear that accreditation was a minor factor in quality assurance in HE in Japan, if a factor at all.

As for the external audit aspects of the current accrediting that JIHEE now does, I wouldn't make too much of it.

8. Next:

Finally, two quick corrections of my own initial post. JACA apparently still only does tandais (I thought they’d added senmon gakkous from last year, but I was wrong). Also, I wrote, “Given that most private universities hadn't begun this process before 2004,” but I probably should have also added that many public universities were no better prepared. Indeed, the initial unpreparedness of so many schools, combined with the aforementioned three years needed to prepare, is a major reason why the number of accreditation evaluations increased exponentially in 2007. 

By 'senmon gakkou' do you mean the former national institutions or other types? 

9. To conclude my response to your response to my article. First, let me emphasize that this article was written mostly in journalistic style in 2006-7 (drawing on earlier material from 2004-5), and as such, it also quickly dated. That is why I published it in early 2008 at this blog. Had the accrediting agencies been updating their list of successfully accredited and/or re-accredited institutions at the time (late 2007, when I was editing and attempting to update some of the information in the article), I would have re-written it to reflect the new information better. When I asked professors at my own university as late as 2005, they still didn't know who was actually going to accredit them, even though they were getting ready for it.

Also, I still don't think any of the above objections or attempts at correction you have raised hurt in any serious way my main arguments, which remain: (1) American-style accreditation is questionable, even for US institutions, and doesn't fit well with Japan (which could be reconciled with your argument that it's become something different here in Japan anyway) and (2) accreditation, when it was voluntary, was mostly meaningless. It might still well be. So much has happened in such a short period of time that there has been very little analysis and evaluation of all that supposed evaluation.

I still believe the future of accreditation should be based on mode of delivery (e.g., distance learning vs. taught classes that are physically attended, modular vs. taught courses, etc.) and speciality (e.g., accreditation of the quality of a given program, whether it's English literature or electrical engineering). 

I would like to update the material at this blog on accreditation in Japan and invite readers to submit material. 


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