Regarding the opinion piece “The global decline of Japanese universities” in the Jan. 19 edition, I’m not sure professor Takamitsu Sawa has a real grasp of what ails Japan’s universities most. More important than how they are evaluated internationally is how their dwindling resources are misused to begin with. I don’t just mean the many stories of researchers misusing research funds for no particular purpose except self-benefit, but the bigger picture such as the disproportionate personnel structuring problems and the attendant decision-making mistakes by the administrators who have the final say.

Many Japanese colleges put their funding into basic survival by using too much money to promote their image and attempt to attract enough students to survive, increasingly unsuccessfully. They stoop to unethical practices like easing and even falsifying exam standards, even offering places to students who chose another university to attend at the last moment. In general, the number of administrators and their immoral use of funds has increased significantly in proportion, meaning that hiring enough suitable instructors has been excluded from many colleges’ mandates.

Another serious problem is that many university teachers are teaching subjects that neither help nor appeal to most students, while the number of teachers teaching what students both need and want has declined. Some teachers have only a handful of students while many English classes taught by native English speakers are over-enrolled or given to unqualified or ineffective temporary teachers.

It is certainly true that English is one of the biggest weaknesses in Japanese education and prevents Japan from internationalizing enough to develop in so many ways. There are simply not enough properly trained or employed English teachers. Instead, the government and most college administrations have long resorted to hiring unqualified and easily disposable alternatives. Until those with their hands on the purse strings are replaced by decision-makers who are less interested in personal promotion, the current educational malaise will simply continue to worsen.


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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