Private universities stage central Tokyo comeback

by Shinichi Tokuda

After relocating some departments to the outskirts of Tokyo to cope with increasing enrollments, private universities are now increasingly returning to the city center to survive amid a declining birthrate.

Drastic declines in real estate and construction prices after the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s also appear to be providing a tail wind.

Toyo University is building new structures with a total floor space of about 23,000 sq. meters at its Hakusan campus in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Next spring, some 8,000 freshmen and sophomores in the literature, economics, business management, law and social sciences departments will be transferred from the Asaka campus in Saitama Prefecture to the Hakusan campus to join juniors, seniors and graduate students.

“Under integrated education, graduate students can support lectures as teaching assistants, and freshmen and sophomores can hold joint seminars with juniors and seniors,” said Hiromi Fukano, chief of the university’s public relations section. “So, we expect positive educational effects.

“By directly seeing juniors’ job-finding activities, freshmen can get a better opportunity to think about their future careers.”

The tract of land for the new buildings has been purchased from businesses and individuals in the neighborhood.

“There was no way we could purchase the land during the bubble period, but the decline in land prices has allowed us to do so,” Fukano said.

Kokugakuin University, which in 2002 celebrated the 120th anniversary of its founding, is in the midst of redeveloping its Shibuya campus.

By 2009, an 18-story head office building, other buildings and a library with a total floor space of 52,000 sq. meters will be completed at a cost of about 17 billion yen.

University Vice President Katsumasa Hirabayashi said: “It is the (university’s) largest-ever undertaking since the university opened. In the bubble era, only half of the construction could have been done.”

Student enrollment at the university began increasing in the 1980s, and in 1992, the university transferred freshmen and sophomores to its Tama Plaza campus in Aoba Ward, Yokohama.

At the peak, there were about 13,000 students. Now, there are around 9,000.

When the redevelopment work is completed, the university will have all its students at the Shibuya campus again.

Hirabayahi said: “Private universities once accepted many students, but a declining birthrate has drastically changed that situation. We cannot attract students without reforms.

“By creating an arena of education on the Shibuya campus, we want to have Kokugakuin University survive” and prosper.

Shibaura Institute of Technology has acquired a tract totaling about 30,000 sq. meters in the Toyosu area in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, where more than 3,000 juniors and seniors will be relocated from the current Shibaura campus in Minato Ward and the Omiya campus in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. The campus in Toyosu will open in April 2006.

“It’s (the culmination of) a long-cherished dream to build a wide campus in the center of the metropolis,” a school official said.

According to an education ministry survey, 809,900 students were admitted to universities and junior colleges nationwide in 1993, the peak year, before declining to 704,500 in 2004.

In 2007, all university aspirants will in theory be allowed into universities because the number of applicants for admission will equal the full quota of students, further intensifying the race among universities to attract students.