As director of the university division of the higher education bureau at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, Takafumi Goda is at the helm of national policy on university education. Recently, one of his chief tasks has been to oversee long-awaited reforms to Japan’s university system.
Although Goda, 48, was busy preparing fiscal 2003 budget proposals for his division, he took time to talk to The Japan Times.
Why do we need university reforms now?
The move toward university reforms is not unique to Japan. It is an international trend that is in response to a changing needs. In this information-oriented era, we are becoming a knowledge-based society, as opposed to when we were mainly an industrial society. Naturally, universities have to change as well so that they can play a key role in society.
How do Japanese universities have to change?
For a long time, Japan has had a uniform idea about university education and the government has targeted specific academic standards for higher education [such as setting strict standards for establishing new universities]. But what society needs from higher education has become more diverse, and now universities have to re-examine and change themselves while interacting with the outside world. The government now has to create an environment in which the schools can do this [by making it easier to create new departments or to reshuffle a school's organization].
What qualities are needed in university graduates of the future?
You can ask top business circles about that and you will get the same answer. They say that higher education mainly has two goals: to create leaders with high-level knowledge and skills; and to provide the general student population with the basic knowledge and wisdom that are necessary to be a member of society.
Educational panels often point out that Japanese universities should encourage independent thinking among their students. Do you agree with them?
I can’t say that these opinions are wrong. It is important to consider what is an ideal university graduate, but there shouldn’t be just one ideal. Society needs various kinds of people, and the important thing is that each university seriously considers what kind of graduates they want to send out into society.
What kind of effect will the declining birthrate have on universities?
The decrease in the potential student population could have a positive effect on Japanese universities in that it will create a competitive environment among them and make them conduct reforms to meet the needs of students. It is a fact that they may face bankruptcy, but ultimately I think it good that, in order to survive, the universities will be forced to change.
University teachers have already voiced concerns that students’ academic abilities are falling. As admissions will be fewer, aren’t you worried that students will be able to enter universities with lower test scores?
On the contrary, I think it is good because it would give students who have other abilities, which might not be calculated by paper tests, the chance to enter college.
How do you see Japanese universities 10 years from now?
The biggest change will occur on the campus scene. Among the crowds of young students, you will also see more middle-aged people or elderly people. I imagine that the system of accepting students from a wider cross section of society, such as business people, will be widespread, and older students will help change the university scene.