EDEV_506 Week 1_6

You write;

We all agree with Coaldrake and Stedman (1999) that it´s essential to line up higher education curriculums to industry and to the recruiter needs. In my opinion, a higher education degree only has value if it will make the difference in student’s future professional life.

I’m afraid that in my initial interactions with you, I will appear too sceptical, contrarian perhaps. I do not wish for this, but with all due respect, I feel that these statements are made from a US/ European-centric view of higher education that fails to address the reality of the Japanese situation.

A few months ago, I left a very low-level institution to take up a place at a national university, the highest one in the prefecture. Although my knowledge of this new site is still shallow, I can speak with some small degree of authority to the highs and the lows of Japanese HE.

The first point is that the notional ‘we’ (Do you mean students on this board or HE practitioners in general?) do not agree fully with Coaldrake and Stedman’s assertion of the need to align the curricula in HE with the needs of industry (Coaldrake & Stedman, 1999). The so-called triple helix model of HE (Leydesdorff & Meyer, 2003) is actively contested in my faculty whose guiding principles concur with the Newmanian educated citizen model (Newman, 2011), a view that finds support in others who see the principle task of HE as continuing the epistemological, moral and intellectual capacities of 18-year-olds (Perry, 1970; Thompson, 2014; Williams, 2013). McCaffery pejoratively labels this the ‘finishing school’ function of HE (McCaffery, 2010, p. 9). Refsing (1992) has a similar list for HE in Japan, but hers speaks of “education, socialisation, selection and safekeeping” (p. 119).

The backdrop for our liberal arts faculty’s determination not to bow to industry needs springs from a 2014 Ministry of Education initiative to ‘restructure’ (felt by many to be a euphemism for ‘reduce’) the numbers of education, social science and humanities majors and push towards a more hard science focus for Japanese HEIs (Dean, 2015). Some level of vindication happened in May when our pro-reductionist President reported to the senate that the heads of the prefecture’s banks and other industry leaders that they do not wish for a change in our curriculum as we produce graduates with flexible cognitive abilities who can adapt more easily to the contingencies of professional life better than those trained in specialist areas. Ironically, this report may be interpreted as a method of alignment with industry.

Space forbids a fuller response to the second point you make about the value of the degree itself. I can only note that Japanese university degrees are commonly agreed to have little intrinsic value (Aspinall, 2013; McVeigh, 2002; Mulvey, 2012; Sugimoto, 2014; Yamada, 2015). Most HEIs attempt to get their students to pass at least one national qualification during their four years and actively promote these external exams as a part of their publicity. The value of HE to many Japanese is the name of the university and the types of national qualification they leave with: and, of course, the types of club activities they did during their four years (Cowie, 2006; Cutts, 1997).


Aspinall, R. W. (2013). International education policy in Japan in an age of globalisation and risk. Boston: Brill.

Coaldrake, P., & Stedman, L. (1999). Academic work in the twenty-first century: Changing roles and policies. Higher Education Division, Commonwealth of Australia

Cowie, N. (2006). What Do Sports, Learning Japanese, and Teaching English Have in Common? Social- Cultural Learning Theories, That’s What. JALT Journal, 28(1), 23–38.

Cutts, Robert L. 1997. An Empire of Schools: Japan’s Universities and the Molding of a National Power Elite. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Dean, A. (2015, September 26). Japan’s humanities chop sends shivers down academic spines. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/sep/25/japans-humanities-chop-sends-shivers-down-academic-spines

Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2003). The Triple Helix of university – industry – government relations. Scientometrics,58(2), 191–203. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026276308287

McCaffery, P. (2010). The higher education manager’s handbook: Effective leadership & management in universities & colleges (2nd ed.). Milton Park, UK: Routledge.

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. http://doi.org/10.1353/jjs.2004.0010

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.

Newman, J. H. (2011). The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated: In Nine Discourses Delivered to the Catholics of Dublin, (0), 440.

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Refsing, K. (1992). “Japanese Educational Expansion, Quality or Equality.” In Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan, ed. Roger Goodman and Kirsten Refsing. New York: Routledge, pp. 116–29.

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

Thompson, R. J. J. (2014). Beyond Reason and Tolerance: The purpose and practice of higher education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, J. (2013). Consuming higher education: Why learning can’t be bought. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling (Vol. 53). London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

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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