Education panel urges Japanese colleges to reach outside

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The nation’s universities should try to rejuvenate themselves by collaborating with overseas institutions to offer joint degrees and attracting more foreign teachers and students to nurture global talent among Japanese, a government panel said in proposals released Wednesday.

“We would like to see many world-class universities from Japan by implementing the measures in these proposals,” education minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters.

The proposals, which mainly focused on higher education, urge Japanese colleges to strive to be more internationally competitive by inviting top-notch foreign institutions to set up programs with universities here at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The panel also urged introduction of a new, annual salary system that will foster mobility among college teachers, including non-Japanese staff.

The goal is to have within the next decade more than 10 Japanese universities listed in the top-100 world ranking, with the government intensively supporting those institutions that actively hire foreign teachers, enhance partnerships with overseas institutions and offer degrees that can be obtained via classes in English.

Currently only two Japanese universities are in the top-100 in the World University Rankings of the Times Higher Education, with the University of Tokyo at 27th place and Kyoto University at 54th.

The panel is also calling for doubling the number of Japanese who study abroad to 120,000 and increasing the number of foreign students in Japan to 300,000 over an as yet unspecified time frame.

According to the education ministry, there were 58,060 Japanese studying abroad in 2010. In 2012, Japan had 137,756 foreign students.

Also proposed is a drastic expansion of English-language classes in elementary schools, although the panel avoided specifics, including when to start such an expansion or whether to make English an official subject.

English has been taught to fifth- and sixth-graders once a week since the 2011 school year, but the language is not an official subject.

The latest package by the 15-member panel, headed by Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata, is to be finalized and submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week.

The panel has already presented two other sets of educational proposals to Abe.

The first one, submitted in February, targeted the problem of bullying, calling on schools to suspend those who torment others and to enhance education on morals.

The proposals came after the belated reporting of a 13-year-old junior high school boy’s October 2011 suicide, and after his school and city admitted, well after the fact and after previous denials, that the victim had been harassed by classmates.

The second one in April recommended an overhaul of education administration in order to give the heads of local governments the authority to appoint local board of education chiefs in order to clarify where responsibility lies. At present, boards of education elect their own leaders.

  • kyushuphil

    This cooperation could start fairly easily.

    Japanese universities need only partner with universities abroad, so classes of students in Japan write essays on the material their students cover, featuring in these essays some personal aspects of each individual student’s motivation regarding the course material.

    Send them as a batch to peer university in other country — in English. Let the students in the other university write their own essays, all mentioning individuals in Japan they like most. That is, the students in Japan may enhance their individual perspectives by citing works in Japanese culture that help them see and value whatever they see and value. They may also cite works in international culture.

    Conversation will abound.

  • Agroman

    These proposals will always remain as proposals, real implementation will never happen. As a foreign professor in a national university, I have seen and worked in many proposals over the years and have to admit that most of the proposals are short sighted. Most of the programs start with a duration of 5 years with no clear future directions. Moreover, there has been no improvement in infrastructure to support the foreign academics or these programs. I have been working here for more than 7 years. I was first hired as a foreign professor and later became permanent employee. During my tenure, I haven’t seen a single communication from the University administration in English, no opportunities to submit grant proposals in English (MEXT grant application form is available in English, but the rest of the processes are in Japanese). The review reports of the grant application also delivered in Japanese. There is not a single employee in the administration who can communicate with the foreign person in English. The only reason I could survive here as my Japanese is reasonable. Unless the govt. think of improving these facilities, it will always be a dream to attract bright successful foreign researchers/academics. The core curriculum in most of the universities is in Japanese. Unless it is changed, it will be extremely difficult to attract students from abroad. Additionally, most of new the hiring for improving English education are done on non-tenure track basis. It could be fine for the English language teaching but it is completely unappealing for research oriented teaching jobs in University. Another major issue is schooling system, there are no real opportunities for the foreign kids to take English lessons to US, UK standard. The facility for families also play an important role while making a decision to move in a foreign country. It is very important to face these challenges and and making plans to improve the infrastructure before thinking such ambitious goals.