Japan has already begun to experience a population decline, with the result that many universities are already having difficulty maintaining their student populations, although entry into top ranks of the universities remains hugely competitive. The emerging and foreseeable trend is that many universities will have to try to attract large numbers of foreigners or diversify or face closure. It is also now said that a university education in Japan is within easier reach of students today, but that the quality of that higher education is now in question despite the many educational reforms that have been set in motion. Each academic year begins in April and comprises of two semesters. Basic general degrees are four-year degrees, a feature adapted from the American system. Undergraduate students receive instruction via the lecture and seminar group method. The general degree may be followed by two-year Master’s degrees (generally a combination of lectures and guided research) and then a three year Doctorate (largely based on research) where these are offered.
Graduate education in Japan is underdeveloped compared to European countries and the United States with only slightly more than 7 percent of Japanese undergraduates going on to graduate school as compared to 13 percent of American undergraduates. Postgraduate educational offerings are weak and the number of universities offering postgraduate programmes or a wide variety of programmes, is small, compared to that in other industrialized western countries.
Japan has about three million students enrolled in 1,200 universities and junior colleges and consequently the second largest higher educational system in the developed world. Japan also has one of the largest systems of private higher education in the world. The 710 odd universities in Japan can be separated into 3 categories: highly competitive, mildly competitive and non-competitive (the schools that are first-tier being the infamously difficult to enter ones). Public universities are generally more prestigious than their private ones with only 25 percent of all university-bound students being admitted to public universities.
More than 65 percent of high school graduates continue their studies; of these, over 70 percent are enrolled in private colleges and universities. Only about 10 percent of private institutions receive their financial resources from public funding, with most public funds on higher education being spent on the national and local public universities. Despite the impressive statistics, Japanese universities are considered to be the weakest link in the country’s educational system.
While many western writers have, time and time again, attributed the economic success of Japan to the well-educated and highly literate population of Japan, recent writings and studies tend to be far more critical, lamenting the deplorable state and quality of higher education in Japan today. Despite the famed exam rigors and competitiveness, declining standards in education and the high school student’s lack of interest in studying have lately been under spotlight. Some attribute this disinterestedness to the fact that academic effort no longer assured automatic rewards with the disintegration in the formerly stable and guaranteed lifetime employment system.
Japanese students are also widely known to traditionally consider their university days to be a social playground, a reward for the hard work and having made it there, and, as many critics have recently pointed, professors demand relatively little from their students. Despite the institutional change and sweeping national reforms underway in response to these criticisms, the key problems remain unresolved: the pyramidal-structure of the university system and entrance exam wars; the centrally-controlled curriculum and lack of individuality and creativity of students as well as the lack of competitiveness in educational suppliers.
Courtney from Study Moose
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