LONDON – In response to concerns about a lack of funding for Japanese studies at British universities, a major cash injection will be announced next month in the form of new teaching posts.
In October, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and the Nippon Foundation will announce which universities have successfully won grants from a special fund that will be used to establish 13 full-time teaching and research posts.
Over the last 10 years, several university departments have closed, leading to concerns that experts and research are at critically low levels.
The government recently stepped in to boost funding for strategically important “minority” subjects, including Japanese, but critics believe it didn’t go far enough.
The foundations have decided to provide some £2.5 million (about ¥575 million) over five years. The new posts, a combination of lectureships and postdoctoral fellowships, will be up and running next year. The foundations hope to fund postgraduate study in the future.
Eager to broaden the scope of Japanese studies, the new posts will focus on aspects of contemporary Japan, covering such fields as politics, economics, international relations, culture, media and society.
This could be a reflection of a belief running through the academic community that an increasing number of young people are interested in modern-day Japan via their exposure to “manga” (comic books), design, music, fashion and the like.
“This is going to be one of the largest injections of recurrent external funding that Japanese studies in this country has ever received,” said Stephen McEnally, chief executive of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation. “We need to safeguard our next generation of Japan experts.
“The result of the cuts in funding has been a perceived decline in the number of early and midcareer academics working in Japanese studies as more and more British scholars seek research opportunities and work in countries overseas where provision for Japanese is much more generous,” he said.
The foundations hope the cash injection will provide a long-term and sustainable future for Japanese studies.
Experts have said the current situation has reached a crisis and fear Britain’s diplomatic and economic relations will be jeopardized if the erosion continues.
Some universities have cut back and closed down departments because they say there is not enough demand for Japanese and Japanese studies, a claim denied by academics who say the number of applications is rising.
According to one informed source, demand for places at one university course outstripped supply this year. The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation says that this year saw a 40.9 percent rise in undergraduate applications compared with 2006. And demand could well grow as 10,000 children are studying Japanese in schools.
Experts argue the cutbacks are a result of the subject being more expensive to teach per head than more popular languages, such as French and German — which have a higher number of students per teacher and are therefore more cost effective — and this is not taken into account when the government allocates funding to the universities.
Moreover, academics believe it is unfair that Japanese is classified in the same way as French and German when it comes to allocating funds for overseas study trips.
The quality of research has also suffered in Japanese departments because they generally have a small number of staff who must still carry out the same administrative responsibilities as larger departments. This has resulted in some of the Japanese departments failing to attract government funds for additional research.
McEnally expressed hope the new posts will allow the universities to mount courses that until now have been unavailable.
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation was established in 1985 with an endowment from the Tokyo-based Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation. It gives grants to activities and projects that serve to enhance mutual understanding between Britain and Japan.
The Tokyo-based organization, now called the Nippon Foundation, is a private grant-making entity established in 1962. It funds assistance for humanitarian activities both at home and abroad, and for global maritime development.