What’s wrong with Japanese universities?

This post is republished from an entry on the editorial page of www.osakajalt.org

A couple of days ago the Japan Times published an excellent article by Chris Burgess of Tsuda College titled, “Students choose failure over uncertainty.” It is an excellent article and hits the nail right on the head of what is wrong with Japanese higher education:

“The low quality of Japan’s higher education system is inextricably tied up with the country’s job-hunting system.”

I agree. In my experience here is what usually happens: starting in a student’s third year they attend endless presentations, seminars, workshops, etc. offered by companies seeking employees. If a candidate is unable to attend most, if not all of these, they usually lose their spot and are no longer considered for a job with that company. The result is that students prioritize their future careers over school and are absent from class. Missing most of their 3rd and 4th years of university to job hunting means many students (at least at the universities that I am familiar with) take most of the classes they need to graduate in the first two years. For Example, I was looking at the schedule of one of my 2nd year students the other day and she is taking 21 classes (40 credits) this semester. That is nearly a third of the credits she needs to graduate.

What is the result of this credit overload? Students are unable to study anything in a meaningful way because they don’t have the time, energy or concentration to do otherwise. Instructors, myself included, end up teaching in a superficial manner because that is the only thing the students can handle. So if students aren’t really able to study adequately and we are not really able to teach sufficiently, how do universities decide who can graduate? Simple. They don’t. They set their standards to a bare minimum and everyone who has met that bare minimum graduates.

My opinion for some time now has been (and I am glad to see that I am not alone) that the way that companies conduct their search for new employees is what is wrong with higher education in Japan and reforming this practice will allow universities to improve the education that they give their students… in my humble opinion.

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