Regarding the Jan. 22 letter “Interesting take on enrollment” (whose anonymous writer asked for a more detailed explanation of my earlier assertion that the number of students in Japan’s universities has not declined as predicted by those who are influenced by demographic factors only): One wrong assumption about the Japanese education system is that university enrollment numbers are falling as the number of young people in Japan declines. It is also assumed, as a result, that higher education standards must be falling as universities are forced to admit less able students.
The percentage of the population going to university does not depend on demographic factors; it depends mainly on the cost of higher education and the economic condition of the country. If Japan, just like the European countries and the former Soviet Union, abolished tuition fees, many more students would be able to go to university despite the current demographic factors. That doesn’t mean that academic standards would go down. Historical evidence from a number of countries indicates that when the number of students grew due to positive government policy, academic standards went up, not down.
In Japan, there are three types of universities: national or imperial universities, public universities maintained by prefectural governments, and private universities. Among the private universities there are two types: the old and very prestigious like Waseda, Keio, Chuo, Ritsumeikan, Sophia, etc., and many small universities that are not so well known.
Because of the dire economic situation in Japan, most students are going to public and national universities where tuition fees are about one-third of that for private universities. Meanwhile, Japanese parents are borrowing by any means necessary to send their children to university, since a high school certificate is no longer enough to get a good job in the manufacturing sector, which is in decline because of the shifting of Japanese factories to China. There is also an upsurge of interest among Japanese students to learn Chinese, not English.
The result is twofold: (a) Enrollments at prestigious Japanese private universities are not falling because the increasing number of foreign students, almost all Chinese, is offsetting the falling number of Japanese students, and (b) the not-so-prestigious private universities, because of high tuition and other fees, cannot attract Japanese students anymore. A lot of them will certainly disappear.
These factors have nothing to do with academic standards in Japanese schools or the university system.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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