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.

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