Anew government team formed by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is planning to request that businesses delay the start of job-hunting activities for university students until April of their senior year. This would constitute an important educational reform. However, it is only a baby step in the right direction. Students need to study for a full four years before embarking on the time-intensive undertaking of finding a job.
The conflict between studying and job-hunting has a long history. In the past, businesses maintained a general agreement not to start recruiting until students were in their fourth year of university. That agreement was abolished in 1997 when some companies started making job offers long before the agreed period. The start of recruitment then gradually shifted to the summer of the third year and finally to the beginning of the third year.
As a result, as every university teacher in Japan knows, third- and fourth-year students have a ready excuse for not turning in homework, submitting reports or showing up for class — job hunting! The interruption to university students’ studies is a national tragedy.
Students with barely two years of higher education have to suit up, fill in “entry sheets,” and prepare for company interviews long before they are ready.
The worst part of the current job-hunting system is that companies hold their information sessions, initial screening, testing and group and individual interviews at the same time that students are supposed to be in class. As a result, third- and fourth-year students in Japan spend as much time hunting jobs as studying in their majors, usually more.
The central government has finally understood the serious damage to higher education that such a recruitment system causes. However, pushing the starting line to April of the fourth year is really only a half-measure. It would give students and professors one more year to work and learn, but would also increase the pressure on students in their fourth year.
If the team were serious about making real reform, they would push the starting point to after graduation. That would allow students to fully complete their studies, including doing serious research for graduation essays, and maybe even let them have time to think about what job suits them and where they want to work.
The worry over when students would start new jobs and how they would support themselves are not reasons to leave the system as it is. Instead, other solutions such as staggered starting times, training periods or volunteer activities could be found so students can be supported financially until their regular jobs begin.
Companies could change this system on their own by agreeing to move the recruitment after graduation and accepting applicants who are older. Universities should push to reclaim education as the top priority, rather than complying with a system that does nothing more than producing an impressive rate of successful job applicants among their graduates.
The government should ensure that students have time to complete their studies before moving on to the next step of finding work. That would be real educational reform.