Mod 6 Week 1 Initial Post

The new module aims to develop an understanding of the issues and methodologies of leadership, policy and institutional change. These are highly contested concepts that contain many layers of meaning and implication, so the next ten weeks should be interesting academically, intellectually and possibly even instil in me the desire for leadership. That would be fun.

The opening discussion asked cohort members to describe the significant forces that act upon HEIs in our working environment. My reaction, as usual, was against the Western-centric readings and ask about how the theory could be adapted to the specific circumstances in Japan.

My biggest challenge in this module will be to create a framework for analysis that does justice to the Japanese environment in which I find myself. No single theory can address all aspects of a system; no nationwide educational system can be an exact match of another; and no available body of work to date has addressed my particular context.

Various theories exist to describe aspects of the interaction of elements impacting on higher education institutes (HEI). Frame analysis views the interaction of policy frames with rhetorical frames to construct mutually supportive normalising pressures on HEIs to conform with wider political and societal views (Pick, 2008). However, frame theory is unable to predict the direction of change, it being sensitive mainly to how rhetoric operates in the shaping of public opinion. Politics operates at the level of rhetoric (Fairclough, 1989) suggesting that critical discourse analysis may be used in tandem with frame analysis to comprehend how HEIs find coherence between internal HEI diverse views and the pressures from external agents (Hammond & Wellington, 2013). Pick’s (2008) study of Germany and Australia shows how those areas differ. A similar report into the Japanese situation would produce an equally different result. For example, Australia focusses on nation building as a primary purpose for HE (Pick, 2008), a notional point also raised by Keller (2007). Yet the precise dynamics and rationales in Japan’s case for nation building are likely to be Japan-specific. Also, Australia’s push towards a neo-liberal policy agenda (Pick, 2008), which superficially resembles that in Japan (Mock, Kawamura & Nagamuma, 2016) would be viewed ironically in Japan because the main grant provider here is the government via state-funded—kakenhi—programmes (Asonuma & Urata, 2015).

Rational actor theory underpins Bleiklie’s (2006) dynamic regime approach that provides an ontology of issues and contexts affecting the management of HEIs. Such an ontology sets up many sub-models that have utility for HEI research in Japan. But even though certain aspects of Bleiklie’s formulation provide some suitable analytical techniques, for example the authority tool of leader-follower being highly appropriate in collectivist Japan, limiting an ontology to formal aspects of a system based on those found typically in the West is unlikely to offer a precise enough lens with which to view the Japanese situation. Even Bleiklie’s own analysis of the English HEI state remains “mixed” (2006, p. 56). Furthermore, it is arguable that an ontological view is incomplete without a predictive epistemology.

Similarly, it is arguable that the simple description of HEI demographic trends in a country (Coaldrake & Stedman, 1999; Dew, 2012; McCaffery, 2010), or the recognition that a country’s government has more influence on HEI-internal policy decision (Christopher, 2012; Hempsall, 2014; McCaffery, 2010), or that there is a greater perception of quality assurance issues in regard to both the content of education in HEIs or the relationship between the graduate and the needs of industry (Leydesdorff & Meyer, 2003; McCaffery, 2010) and so on is trivial. Each of these points—and more—can be contested in every geopolitical site, no less in Japan. Taking quality assurance as a representative example, many observers note that industry hardly considers this an issue at all in Japan; the fact of admission into an HEI is the main consideration when a fourth-year undergraduate seeks employment not the quality of the final degree (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002; Mulvey, 2012).

My own view is that there is a need for a social psychological instrument to supplement the systems-based tools outlined in the studies above. Such an instrument is more likely to be responsive to the particular sensitivities of individuals and groups of individuals and may lead to some degree of predictive power, which may be useful in dealing with the contingencies of HEI management in Japan.


Asonuma, A., & Urata, H. (2015). Academic funding and allocation of research money. In A. Arimoto, W. K. Cummings, F. Huang, & J. C. Shin (Eds.), The Changing Academic Profession in Japan (pp. 57-78). Cham: Springer.

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.

Christopher, J. (2012). Governance Paradigms of Public Universities: An international comparative study. Tertiary Education and Management, 18(4), 335–351. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2012.716001

Coaldrake, P., & Stedman, L. (1999). Academic work in the twenty-first century. Canberra, Higher Education Division, Training and Youth Affairs, (September).

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

Dew, J. R. (2012). The future of american higher education. World Future Review, (Winter 2012), 7–13.

Hammond, M., & Wellington, J. (2013). Research Methods. London and New York: Routledge.

Hempsall, K. (2014). Developing leadership in higher education: perspectives from the USA, the UK and Australia. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 36(4), 383–394. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2014.916468

Keller, G. (2007). Higher education management: Challenges and strategies. In J. J. F. Forest & P. G. Altbach (Eds.), International handbook of higher education (pp. 229–242). Dordrecht: Springer.

Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2003). The Triple Helix of university – industry – government relations. Scientometrics, 58(2), 191–203.

McCaffery, P. (2010). The Higher Education Manager’s Handbook: Effective Leadership and Management in Universities and Colleges (2nd ed.). Milton Park, UK: Routledge Osaki, H. (1997). The structure of university administration in Japan. Higher Education, 34, 151–163.

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate.

Mock, J., Kawamura, H., & Naganuma, N. (2016). The Impact of Internationalization on Japanese Higher Education: Is Japanese Education Really Changing? (Vol. 1). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

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.

Pick, D. (2008). Towards a “post-public era”? Shifting frames in German and Australian higher education policy. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(1-2), 3–19. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2273.2008.00383.x

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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