When Wakayama University set up a new masters program in economics last year at its Kishiwada satellite campus, 34-year-old financial planner Kenji Yoshida said he felt like “they created the program just for me.”
Yoshida has been working at the Yonemoto Accounting Company in Kishiwada, a suburb of Osaka, for 12 years, and ever since he started there he had hoped to become a licensed tax accountant. The position required a special license, however, and Yoshida had managed to pass just two out of five required subject tests required for that license.
If he completes the two-year masters program, which is aimed specifically at working students and focuses on tax law, he will be exempt from two more of the subject tests. The classes are held in the evenings and on weekends a mere five- minute drive from his office — meaning he can work full time while studying.
At a total cost of around ¥800,000, Yoshida says “it’s not cheap but not impossible” — and once he becomes a tax accountant, his salary will rise by ¥50,000 per month. He began classes this spring.
The Wakayama University program is part of a graduate-school boom currently sweeping Japan. While current graduate students represent just 0.2 percent of the population, according to the OECD (the figure is double that in England and four times higher in France), enrollment increased from fewer than 100,000 in 1990 to more than 260,000 in 2008.
Older students (as opposed to those who enter grad school directly after completing an undergraduate degree) make up a significant portion of that figure. While the number of older learners in undergraduate programs has stagnated recently, it leapt from 6 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2008 for graduate programs. Many schools are realizing the importance of designing programs that will entice those older students to sign up.
Wakayama University’s Yoshida, for one, is glad he did.
“At first I wondered, can I really go back at this age? But it feels really fresh,” he said. “As an undergrad, there wasn’t anything I really wanted to study. Now my frame of mind is totally different.”