EDEV_506 Week 1_2

Your round-up of the environmental influences on Japanese HEIs outlined three of the major factors; globalisation, fiscal tightening and digital technology. Reading your report emphasises to me the importance of clarity. We are both in Japan and the national politics, pre-HE educational and cultural issues will affect us in similar ways. Yet, I suspect that my mantra this week will be for a call for contextual definition. The Japanese national context informs much of how we will approach our study, but even that scale of analysis seems to be too wide because it does not adequately distinguish between the public and the private sectors, nor between the elite and the non-elite institutions. Arguably, what drives national educational politics are responses to and by the public and the elite institutions (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002; Poole, 2010). The leader-follower pattern markedly isomorphic tendency (Bleiklie, 2006) is likely to be observed in collectivist Japan, but innovation stemming from private, non-elite HEIs is not unheard of (see for example, Mulvey, 2012, who describes his adult-education evening classes in Miyazaki).

To give just one example of how the context affects interpretation and understanding, I will discuss the oft-stated demographic problem, the aging population (Sugimoto, 2014). There is a structural reason the chronic population decline affects private HEIs differently from national ones. Private universities in Japan, unlike their counterparts in north America, generate their incomes mainly from student fees (Aspinall, 2015). Prior to the 1975 amendment to the Private School Promotion Law, private HEIs were legal properties of their founders, and the Ministry had no legal or policy instrument to intervene in the management of those institutions (Osaki, 1997). The 1975 amendment allowed private HEIs to accept governmental subsidies based on enrolment figures on the condition that student populations were capped. This mechanism gave the Ministry the authority to mediate in private HEI affairs (Osaki, 1997).

Government enrolment capping is a powerful device, and it partially explains the prestige of national universities through a rather simple yet socially divisive technique. The average student fee for a national university is significantly lower than that of a private one (Yamada, 2014). Leaving aside the historical development of social, economic and cultural capital national universities have built up, the sheer economic fact of a much lower expense combined with a strict enrolment cap leads to the situation where many more 17-year-olds attempt entry to public HEIs. The upshot is that there to date always more applicants than places available. The fiscal pressures on national institutions stem not from the falling numbers of 17-year-olds but from other sources. Yes, the demographic situation affects HEIs throughout Japan, but the nature of that influence differs even within Japan.


As a note to non-Japanese cohort members, the size of Japanese HEIs deserves a remark. The biggest institution in the Tohoku region of Japan is Tohoku Gakuin University with 12,000 students. My own institution is said to be mid-sized at 5,000, far less than the 17,000 cited as average for English HEIs by McCaffery (2010). Even the biggest in Japan, Tokyo University, has less than 28,000 students. These numbers coupled with the necessarily limited associated governmental subsidies point to the severe nature of the fiscal situation.

Aspinall, R. W. (2015). Society. In J. D. Babb (Ed.), The Sage handbook of modern Japanese studies (pp. 213–228). Sage Publications.

Bleiklie, I. (2006). Policy regimes and policy making. In M. Kogan, M. Bauer, I. Bleiklie, & M. Henkel (Eds.), Transforming higher education: A comparative study (2nd ed., pp. 39–68). Dordrecht: Springer.

McCaffery, P. (2010). The Higher Education Manager’s Handbook: Effective Leadership and Management in Universities and Colleges (2nd ed.). Milton Park, UK: Routledge

Mulvey, B. (2012). From Resistance to Resolution: The Journey Towards a Sustainable Vision of Continuing Education in Japan.Continuing Higher Education Review, 76, 122–137.

Osaki, H. (1997). The structure of university administration in Japan. Higher Education, 34, 151–163.

Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An introduction to Japanese society (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yamada, R. (2014). Measuring quality of undergraduate education in Japan: Comparative perspective in a knowledge based society. Singapore: Springer.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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