EDEV_504 Week 3_1

I appreciated your answer to C’s question. In particular, your inclusion of the University of Edinburgh’s target population for widening participation (WP) made me consider the state in my current institution in Japan. I’d like to address that issue briefly here.

Martin Trow (2007) describes societies that have over 50% of their school-leaving population in higher education (HE) as “universal” (p. 244). As of 2010, Japan has 77.6% of its population of 18-year-olds entering some form of HE (Bureau of Higher Education, 2012). Pejoratively, this has become known as the ‘period when everyone can enter university’ (Ishiwatari, 2007). This phenomenon sees the issue of WP in a different light in Japan. Furthermore, 91.8% of Japanese identify as being middle class (Sugimoto, 2014a), a fact rendering mute much of the WP categories of low income and low participation. The ethnicity debate, likewise, is non-existent in Japan as 98.5% of inhabitants are ethnically Japanese (“Japan,” 2016).

Yet, there are serious issues in WP that need to be addressed in the Japanese context. Japan claims to have a highly egalitarian and meritocratic education system (Aoki, 2008; Poole & Amano, 2003; Sugimoto, 2014b), yet behind this façade lie decidedly unegalitarian assumptions. Arimoto (2015) reports that 98% of successful university entrants attended cram schools. I pay the equivalent of £250 each month for each of my children to take cram school lessons. Paying for cram school tuition is out of the reach of many lower income families. Access to HE seems to be universal, and this appears to support the argument of an egalitarian society. However, universities are ranked from A to F (Recruit, private correspondence) with competition for A and B ranked institutions still very high. In 2015, the rate of applicants to each place in the University of Tokyo was 3.1 (Todai Kawai, 2016). The lower ranks fill up with those failing to enter their first choice university, and most D to F rank universities do not reach full capacity (Recruit, private correspondence).

Moreover, most entrance exams consist of multiple choice questions and the role of rote memory is paramount. There is an argument to be made that Japan does not provide an equitable education to certain types of individual. I’ll make this point later. For now, my task is to consider what other types of inequality exist in Japan that are possibly being masked by the veneer of egalitarianism and meritocracy.


Aoki, K. (2008). Confucius vs. Socrates: The Impact of Educational Traditions of East and West in a Global Age. The International Journal of Learning, 14(11).

Arimoto, A., Cummings, W. K., Huang, F., & Shin, J. C. (2015). The Changing Academic Profession in Japan. Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-09468-7

Bureau of Higher Education. (2012). Higher Education in Japan. Tokyo. Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/english/highered/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2012/06/19/1302653_1.pdf

Ishiwatari, R. (2007). Saikougakufu wa baka darake [The Top Universities are full of idiots]. Tokyo: Kobunsha.

Japan. (2016). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

Poole, G. S., & Amano, I. (2003). Higher education reform in Japan: Amano Ikuo on “the university in crisis.” International Education Journal, 4(3), 149–176.

Sugimoto, Y. (2014a). Class and stratification: An overview. In An introduction to Japanese society (4th ed., pp. 38–63). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1177/095001709373010

Sugimoto, Y. (2014b). Diversity and Unity in Education. In An introduction to Japanese society (4th ed., pp. 530–531). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Todai Kawai. (2016). Shigansha, Jukensha [Applicants, Entrants]. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://todai.kawai-juku.ac.jp/exam/transition.php

Trow, M. (2007). Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: Forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WW11. In J. J. F. Forest & P. G. Altbach (Eds.), International Handbook of Higher Education: Part 1 Global themes and contemporary challenges (pp. 243–280). Dordrecht: Springer.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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