Todai panel recommends fall enrollment

Shift would give university more muscle to recruit foreign students


A University of Tokyo panel has proposed that the leading institution shift undergraduate enrollment from April to the fall in line with the international norm, sources said Wednesday.

The proposal in an interim report sets the tone for further deliberations at the renowned university locally known as Todai, which has been considering reforms to improve its competitiveness among the world’s top-notch institutions that usually begin their academic year in September or October.

The report, which recommends introducing the change in five years, will be officially released Friday.

Fall enrollment would help facilitate acceptance of foreign students, as well as study abroad programs for the university’s own students.

If realized, however, the change from April would also have a significant impact on the nation’s current college admission and job recruitment practices, as the school and fiscal year begin in April. Many universities have programs to admit students in other months as well as April.

Education experts hope the move by the prestigious university will help generate a broad and lively domestic discussion on the issue, which had been taken up by the government on several occasions but failed to gain momentum.

Many business leaders are also hoping an increase in foreign students studying at Japanese universities will broaden recruitment opportunities.

Deliberations will continue within the university after the panel compiles a final report at a later date, but a conclusion is likely to take longer due to internal opposition. The school also will solicit opinions from high school and business representatives.

The panel recommended that the university’s entrance examinations be held in February to March as usual, and that accepted students be encouraged to make use of the six months or so between their high school graduation in March and college enrollment in the fall to pursue hands-on experiences, such as volunteer activities, internships and international exchanges.

Considering that students may also take time off to study abroad while enrolled, it is expected to take 4½ to five years on average to graduate, longer than the normal four-year curriculum. The panel suggested that flexibility be given to outstanding students should they seek early graduation or to enter graduate school.

Still, the report said, many university and societal issues need to be sorted out before any shift is made.

For example, students could face difficulties finding jobs since the timing of their graduation under the proposed plan would not match the current recruitment process.

Japanese universities’ failure to attract foreign students has often been pointed at as a major reason for their dwindling global status. In the 2011 world ranking by the magazine Times Higher Education, the University of Tokyo reclaimed the spot as best university in Asia, but slipped to 30th place overall.

University presidents have been given the freedom to decide when to admit students since the government-set rule of April enrollment was abolished in December 2007.

In a fiscal 2009 survey by the education ministry, as many as 245 universities have undergraduate admission programs for non-April enrollment. But in reality, only 115 of them were recruiting under such arrangements and only 2,226 students were enrolled.