Universities far from flourishing

Regarding the April 12 Kyodo brief “Japanese universities best in Asia: It would be hasty to jump to the conclusion that Japan’s universities are flourishing despite the data released by the London-based Times Higher Education magazine. A reading of the original magazine article gives a little better perspective. It states that other countries are catching up fast to Japan.

First of all, the sheer number of universities in Japan compared with many Asian nations derails any cozy assumptions of great achievement. Japan has 22 universities in the top 100, but in the top 10, South Korea has more universities than Japan, while China and minuscule Hong Kong have as many top-10 entries as Japan.

Perhaps the most important criterion is connectivity. Compared with Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, most Japanese universities remain inaccessible because of the language barrier.

I read with surprise in the December edition of Newsweek a supplement about good universities to study at in Asia. Sadly Japan was not even mentioned in the introduction as worthy of consideration, placing behind countries like Thailand. Again, this is probably because of the paucity of foreign researchers and the obscurity created by insufficient English accessibility.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s suggestion to spend so much on PC tablets and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams is a little late and mostly in the wrong direction, but it indicates the same thing — that Japan’s linguistic void has created a crisis.

I remember 20 years ago being in the same discussion about foisting TOEFL on students who couldn’t handle it. While TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) is not perfect, it fitted the situation better then and still fits better now. Whether Japan embarks all out on TOEFL, TOEIC or some other exam, testing alone will not solve anything. These exams merely measure ability; they don’t teach it. Maybe 50 years ago, if Japan had invested honestly in real language teaching, it would be No. 1 in Asia. Now, all that can be done is to go back to the basics and establish the right sort of teacher training with the right budget.

david john
chikushino, fukuoka

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.