40% of universities mull shifting academic year


More than 40 percent of the national universities are warming to the University of Tokyo plan to shift the start of the undergraduate academic year from spring to fall, a survey found.

Major private institutions, including Waseda University, Keio University and Ritsumeikan University, have also shown willingness to ponder the move, which a University of Tokyo panel recently advocated to bring the system in sync with international norms.

The survey, conducted by Kyodo News between Monday and Wednesday, covered the presidents of all 81 national universities except the University of Tokyo and graduate schools unaffiliated with universities, as well as 12 major private universities. The response rate was 100 percent.

The University of Tokyo, known locally as Todai, has called on nine other national universities, including Kyoto University and Hokkaido University, as well as Waseda and Keio, join it in shifting the academic year and said it will set up an organ in April to facilitate coordination.

Of those 11 universities, only Kyoto did not express a willingness to participate, making it highly likely that coordination will start in April.

Kyoto University did not answer the survey questions directly and only said it would review the timing of enrollment together with ways to conduct its admission examinations.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda welcomed the University of Tokyo’s initiative at a government meeting Wednesday.

“It’s a praiseworthy move from the viewpoint of nurturing talent that will be competitive globally,” Noda said. He said he would continue to discuss the issue with the government and the private sector.

According to the survey, 35 of the 81 national universities are ready to consider making the switch because it might help increase enrollment of international students and encourage more Japanese to study abroad.

But only 11 national universities have expressed clear approval of the idea at this point.

Many universities said they are concerned about possible discrepancies in the timing for job recruitment and entrance examinations, given that spring is traditionally the season when the new academic, business and fiscal years begin.

Observers say cooperation from both the government and the business community would be required for the transition to succeed, leaving it uncertain how widely the Todai initiative will spread.

Of the 35 universities ready to consider the move, 13 including Fukushima University and Kyushu University said a full transition to the fall is desirable.

Another 13 universities are against switching, including Miyagi University of Education, Nara University of Education, Shiga University and the University of the Ryukyus.