Posted on 17 May 2012
In October 2011, I was selected to join a group of nine administrators from Universities across the UK to undertake a study tour to Japan. Together we visited several Japanese universities in order to co-author a report for the Association of University Administrators (AUA), investigating the following areas:
- Internationalisation and the student experience;
- Employability and the graduate job market;
- Quality assurance and enhancement.
As a Student Liaison Officer, I found myself particularly interested in how the student experience was affected by the Japanese HE system. How were these experiences different from those of students in the UK, and what could we learn from them?
Japan has a long history of Higher Education, and has a total of 752 universities – 591 of which are funded privately. All are monitored internally and by the Ministry for Education. We heard that over 55% of the Japanese population attends University, and most students apply by means of entrance examinations. The competition for entry into the highest-ranked institutions is fierce, as going to University is viewed as the first step towards a successful career path. The graduate job market in Japan is quite different to that of the UK. Corporate employment, particularly with one of the giants of Japanese industry, remains a dominant aspiration among undergraduates. Most students search for employment during their third year of study, so that they may enter employment immediately after graduating.
As a result of this, the Japanese structure does not allow flexibility for students to take a semester to study abroad. Rather, it encourages international students to apply for its courses and attend them in Japan. A government initiative has been set up called ‘Global 30’, in which 13 universities are involved. This means that in these institutions some courses are being delivered through the medium of English, by native English speakers, and attended by Chinese, Korean and American students, among others. For home students, however, we found that although international experience was valued by companies, communication skills were considered more important, and companies expected to train their employees in these where necessary.
In Japan, employees often stay with a company for life – although this is changing, with head-hunting becoming more common. Industry and HE, however, seem to have a close relationship. In most cases the reputation of a particular University depends more upon the success of its alumni, and upon its recruitment statistics, with less emphasis on research output especially in comparison to expectations in the UK.
External quality assurance evaluation is closely linked to accountability in terms of the funding background of the institution. In Japan the 86 national universities receive 55% of their income from the government, whereas the 591 private universities receive only 11% and are much more reliant on student fees and private funds. The new national system for University evaluation applies equally to these different types of institution. Within this system, the kosen, the Colleges of Technology, are particularly praised for their high levels of quality assurance, which have been developed in response to local needs. Areas such as marketing, employment and institutional management, we learned, could be considered as case studies for best practice. Japan has a very different structure and approach to education compared with the UK, and we were excited and grateful to have an opportunity for us to learn more about it. The report from this study tour will be published by the AUA formally.
Harriet Brewster, Student Liaison Officer