More students opt for fifth year

A total of 102,810 students did not graduate from colleges and universities last spring, about one in every six students in their final year. According to a recent survey, many of those students opted to take a fifth year — not to study more deeply but simply to continue looking for a job.

The survey found that many students unsatisfied with job offers they received opted to spend another year in school for another chance at a better position.

Of course, for many other students, the fifth year is not about a better job, but about learning more. Many students stay on to finish their research, learn another language, volunteer oversees or do an internship. Some students who have studied abroad in their third year find it hard to graduate on time because the Japanese university curriculum remains so inflexible. Taking time for endeavors outside of regular course programs means some students sometimes graduate “late.”

Those students who undertake more study should be commended. However, the students who hang around to try again seem to view university as a secure haven from which to improve their future job prospects, and little more.

Unfortunately, for many students, and parents, this view of university is all too common, a view for which they are willing to pay another ¥1 million or more of tuition for another year.

The problem lies partially with this over-practical, self-protective attitude, though one can sympathize with their worries. Universities have an interest in letting them stay, not only for the tuition money but also to increase job-hunt ratings. Those ratings are another way in which universities compete for students.

The problem primarily resides in the hiring practices of many companies that cling to the outdated notion that hiring a student directly from school is better than hiring a student who has already graduated. Already, companies’ hiring practices extremely disrupt the education of students in their third and fourth year of school. Many students spend more time and energy in their third and fourth year finding jobs than studying. Some will now do the same again in their fifth year.

While some companies have stated that they consider all applicants equally if they are within three years of graduation, in practice that is far from the case.

Companies need to move toward a more flexible consideration of candidates so that students do not feel compelled to remain inside the protective walls of school until they can move directly into the workplace.

Another year of study or activity could be a very enriching experience. University education should be considered a way to learn critical skills and meaningful knowledge, and to improve oneself. When university ends up serving as a temporary haven from which to find a job, it loses most of its value.