Alongside worldwide trends towards globalisation (or internationalisation)(see many of the essays in Forest & Altbach, 2006), rapid advances in technology (Brown, 2013; Christopher, 2012; Dew, 2012) and the perception of increased marketization (Coaldrake & Stedman, 1999; Ek, Ideland, Jonsson & Malmberg, 2011; Kogan, Bauer, Bleiklie & Henkel, 2006; Pick, 2008) of higher education (HE) two major local forces impact on the wider Japanese higher education world: the rapidly falling birth rate (MEXT, 2013) and the Ministry of Education (MEXT) drive towards a reconceptualization of the role HE plays in the promotion of societal aims (Steffensen, 2015).
The demographic problem of the greying society (Sugimoto, 2014) generates discussions on the wider scale, but for the purposes of our discussion, I will not pursue that here because the second issue is more immediately, i.e. in terms of time, relevant and the discussion itself has an import beyond Japan and can be useful for us in our team work.
The push to reconceptualise the relationship between the humanities and sciences has resulted in the misconception that there will be the immanent closure or restructuring of departments of social sciences and humanities (Grove, 2015). This, in turn, has led to fear, worry and mistrust (Obe, 2015; Social Science Space, 2015). Arguably, dealing with these tensions at the policy level internally to our faculty has been the prime force influencing decisions and discussions. More precisely, the reconceptualization opens up issues of professionalization, skills and general education, which leads to the discussion of the purpose of education and to the broader questions of how are skills and ‘the person’ actually developed through the curriculum and through other policies.
Educational dispositions need to be promoted through targeted curricular policies (Barnett, 2009). The Japanese Act on Education (Act 120, amended 2006) lists these dispositions as the purpose of HE;
(1) Universities, as the core of scholarship activities, shall cultivate advanced knowledge and specialized skills, inquire deeply into the truth and create new knowledge, while contributing to the development of society by broadly disseminating the results of their activities.
(2) University autonomy, independence, and other unique characteristics of university education and research shall be respected” (MEXT, n.d)
And MEXT also adds the following dispositions as desired outcomes of HE:
“• Acquire the ability to question issues (universities and up)
• Acquire the skills for independence, collaboration, and creativity (lifelong)
• Nurture the ability for social and professional independence” (MEXT, 2013)
However, the limited flexibility implied in professional training (Eraut, 1994) may be at odds with the future oriented needs of society that is gradually abandoning life-long employment and that needs a flexible workforce that can retrain itself multiple times in a single worker’s life span.
Furthermore, the emphasis implied is the notion of the public good, that is, the ultimate benefactor of HE is “the development of society”. Yet, as of 2015 over 75 percent of the 18- 22-year old population are now in some form of HE yet the private outlay towards HE is around 80 percent with government public expenditure on HE being the fourth OECD lowest at 34.4 percent (MEXT, 2013). The falling birth rate will continue to place tensions on the notions of public versus private good as more families reject child rearing for the state in favour of supporting their own private needs. The expense in terms of educational cost of child rearing is the main “Reason of not having the ideal (sic) number of children” (MEXT, 2013) where the top item “Too much money is required for childcare and education” is at 61 percent whereas the second placed item “Do not want to give birth at an older age” (which in itself points to other pressures on society), is at 35 percent. This ‘ideal’ raises more questions: Whose ‘ideal’? on what basis is the number established? And what kinds of policies are in place to a) realise this ideal and b) overcome the obstacles in the way of reaching this ideal? However, these issues are not strictly relevant to our discussion this week although they are connected.
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