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Hirano backs Todai plan for fall enrollment

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

New education minister Hirofumi Hirano said he supports the University of Tokyo’s recent proposal to shift the start of its academic year from April to autumn, a move that would put the school in line with international norms.

The fall enrollment proposal by a university panel is “something that caused a huge stir among universities. . . . I want to wish them good luck while observing the move,” the 62-year-old Lower House member said in a group interview Monday.

Such reform is the responsibility of universities themselves, and the education ministry won’t be taking the lead on any such issue, Hirano said.

“It’s not something the education ministry suggests to do or not. It’s something universities do independently,” he said.

The University of Tokyo panel released the report Friday, recommending moving undergraduate enrollment to the fall.

According to the education ministry, about 70 percent of 215 countries worldwide start their academic years in the fall, while only 3 percent, or seven countries, start in April.

The report said this difference is hurting Japanese students’ chances of studying abroad, while preventing many foreign students from entering Japanese universities. As private-sector demand for global-minded students grows, and international competition to nab top-notch students intensifies, the change is inevitable, panel members said Friday.

The University of Tokyo, known locally as Todai, plans to start talks with 11 universities, including Kyoto University and Nagoya University, as well as economic groups in April and hopes to make the shift within five years.

Considering the nation’s graying population and the rapid rate of globalization, “universities’ governance should not be the same as it used to be. . . . Universities must reform themselves,” Hirano said. “Otherwise, I think they cannot survive in years to come.”

Hirano said the education ministry has “no intention of providing life-prolonging measures,” to universities, so they must take the initiative to survive in this changing environment.

Addressing the difficulties doctoral program graduates face finding jobs, Hirano said a system to make use of such young personnel is needed.

The number of Japanese researchers has been rising since 2001, marking a record 842,900 in March, 2011. With the rise, it is becoming more difficult for young researchers to find a job.

“I think we need to ask companies to employ such personnel. . . . I think the ministry needs to find some ways to use young postdoctoral researchers,” he said.

A Wakayama Prefecture native, Hirano entered politics in 1996 by winning the Lower House seat as an independent. He joined the Democratic Party of Japan in 1998.

Hirano served previously as chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and then as Diet affairs chief under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.