EDEV_508 Week 1_5

I fully agree with you that in the short time scale of ten weeks, fully implementing a radical action research project is unlikely. However, it is exactly that that I will be attempting. I expect to fail, but the manner of the failure is my evaluation measurement. Please let me explain.

The situation in Japanese higher education regarding the quality of graduating students is not positive. Many have criticised Japan for letting the four-year university experience be a time of relaxation between the cut-throat high-school period, that is, the preparation for university entrance, and the individual’s employment (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002). Put in a nutshell, the university is not widely seen as a venue for much academic or advanced development (Yamada, 2015). Part of the explanation for this state of affairs is that all major companies have their own internal training programmes, often lasting for years, that begin when a 22-year-old cohort of fresh university graduates enters the company. I would dearly love to see a study on how these training programmes mitigate the university’s societal role as the prime tertiary education provider, but that needs to be written. Looking at this situation from the industry perspective, they seem to expect this four-year hiatus and only judge potential recruits on the basis of which university they gained entry to at eighteen (McVeigh, 2002).

However, as Japan loses economic ground in the worldwide arena, the major companies are requesting more training from the universities as Japan adopts a triple-helix model of university-government-industry alliance in tertiary education (Leydesdorff & Meyer, 2003). Furthermore, the decreasing population brings challenges to Japan if it is to retain its position as a world leader (Aspinall, 2016). With fewer graduates entering the workforce, the quality of those that do needs to be raised as proportionally more responsibility will be placed on younger shoulders. Yet, the faculty is not designed to promote quality.

That is the background in brief. In terms of English education and of cognitive skill development, my institution has some serious structural drawbacks. They knew this when they hired me ten months ago. I was brought it to give fresh eyes to a stagnant organisation. However, change in Japan is not rapid. My question is how to effect radical change—I will define this in a second—in a traditionally very conservative institution.

So, by ‘radical’, I mean I wish to encourage the development of a curriculum that empowers the student. O’Brien (1998) defines radical action research as a “strive for social transformation” by “overcoming of power imbalances”. The current curriculum structure is highly weighted in the faculty’s favour, where, for example, student evaluation is done by the same professor who teaches the student. This allows for the continuity of transmission models of education (easy for the professor), and passive learning with no quality accountability. It is unlikely that I can change this quickly or uniformly throughout my faculty. However, I have garnered the interests of a few influential professors in the language section who are both able and willing to entertain the notion of researching the curriculum with a view to introducing structures that empower students more. What these may be at this stage, I don’t know. As they say in the press, watch this space.


Aspinall, R. (2016). Is “dynamism without risk” possible in the Japanese university sector?: A critique of the 2009 OECD report on higher education in Japan. In J. Mock, H. Kawamura, & N. Naganuma (Eds.),The Impact of Internationalization on Japanese Higher Education: Is Japanese Education Really Changing? (pp. 106–119). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Cutts, R. L. (1997). An empire of schools: Japan’s universities and the moulding of a national power elite. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

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

O’Brien, R. (1998). An overview of the methodological approach of action research. Retrieved on January 24 2017 from  http://web.net/~robrien/papers/xx%20ar%20final.htm

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

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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