An Update from the Dean Stronach

TUJ and University Reform in Japan – A New Educational Status?

June 25, 2013

TUJ was pleased to have a delegation of seven people from Temple University's main campus visit for graduation weekend on June 8-9th, including President Theobald and Provost Dai. Dr. Neil Theobald became President of Temple U. at the beginning of the year, and it was his and his wife Sheona's first visit to Japan. President Theobald's visit gave me the perfect opportunity to put TUJ and its mission into the context of Japanese society and higher education; a context that is rapidly evolving.

As a close observer of Japan for almost 40 years, I think it is true to say that it is very difficult to bring about change in Japan. Japan is a society that likes harmony and hates stress, and debate about change creates dis-harmony and the implementation of change creates stress. Therefore debates about the need for change and the manner of that change can go on for years. However, at some point in time a kind of critical mass is created and reform seems to happen suddenly, like a nuclear explosion (to keep with the critical mass analogy).

This has certainly been the case as regards the reform of Japanese universities. A serious debate about the reform and internationalization of Japanese universities has been going on in Japan for more than ten years, but suddenly the movement appears to have real momentum. Over the past several months, the Prime Minister's Office, the Liberal Democratic Party's (the governing party) Policy Research Council and high-ranking bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology (MEXT) have all issued statements supporting reforms as varied as changing the corporate recruitment calendar, changing the university entrance system (including the use of TOEFL as an entrance criteria) and adopting the fall-entry semester system.

There are many factors that are responsible for finally bringing about real change in Japanese higher education, but mainly it is the realization that without significant reform in higher education Japan's ability to compete globally with other nations will be severely hampered. This is why, while the responsibility for higher education reform is the purview of MEXT, the current drive for reform is coming more from the LDP government and other ministries such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The postwar system of higher education was successful in producing the types of employees needed by Japanese corporations as long as the Japanese economy was essentially an inward directed economy. But since the 1990s, the globalization of the world's economies has grown increasingly strong, and Japan can no longer deal with the rest of the world as it did in the time of the postwar "economic miracle", i.e., treating international trade as a one-way flow without significantly importing goods and services or opening to foreign peoples and their cultures.

Competitiveness in the contemporary world demands that companies, even some small and medium sized enterprises, be able to deal with other economies and the people and cultures that underlie them. This is why Japanese companies increasingly see the need to hire employees that can take a broader view, have foreign experience and/or can speak foreign languages. At this point I cannot help but put in a plug for TUJ…the above is why our placement rate continues to be above 90% and why our job fairs are getting more and more attention.

On July 21st, there will be an election for Japan's House of Councilors (Sangiin). Presently the LDP and its coalition partner, the Kometo, have a substantial majority in the House of Representatives (Shugiin) but lack a majority in the upper house. Most pundits predict that the LDP and the Kometo will regain a majority in both houses. If that occurs, it will enable Prime Minister Abe to move forward more strongly with his growth strategy known as "Abe-nomics". Increasing the global competitiveness of Japan through reforming the higher education system is a key element of this policy. I believe that if and when the LDP – Kometo coalition regains majorities in both houses, the pace of university reform and internationalization will increase.

TUJ is the oldest, the largest, the only comprehensive foreign university program and the first institution to gain "Foreign University, Japan Campus" status from MEXT. It is therefore natural that TUJ will play an important role in working with both the MEXT and the LDP government to find a status for foreign university campuses as non-taxed, educational institutions in Japan that will allow them to remain academic operations of their home universities. Such a status would relieve our students from the burden of paying consumption tax on tuition. However, as important as that may be, more importantly, it would allow TUJ to participate as a full partner with the government, MEXT, and other Japanese universities in advancing their global competitiveness, in strengthening the ties between American and Japanese universities, and in enhancing TUJ's mission as a Temple University campus in Asia.

With best regards,