Japan Research and Analysis
through Internet Information

by Yasuharu Dando

Confusion Deepens in Universities
(Japanese edition:8/26/1999)

Related work!!---"A Worst Possible Beginning to University Reform"(under printing by "electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies" May 2004)

The trend toward turning national universities into independent administrative corporations is beginning to assume a taste of reality as more and more discussions take place. Although this would mean far-reaching reform, these discussions do not arise from an awareness of the need to find solutions to the already abundant issues that plague universities. It is, rather, a move that is being made from the front lines of administrative reform. On the one hand, the Bulletin of the General Survey of Schools states that at 60%, the percentage of this spring's college graduates who found employment was down 5 points from last year. Academic ability is also said to be exceedingly low, so much so that the results of a recent survey state that it is not uncommon to find college students who have difficulty performing such basic mathematical functions as adding fractions. Nevertheless, in order to recruit students in a society that is giving birth to increasingly fewer children, many universities continue to opt for such sugar-coated policies as lowering the number of disciplines in which they test students in entrance exams.

Creating Independent Administrative Corporations May Not Be the Answer to the Problem

The opinions of those in universities regarding the points made by the Administrative Reform Committee can be seen in the "Summary of the Minutes of the 62nd Meeting of the Organization Management Division of the University Inquiry Council."

"In order to demonstrate the leadership of university presidents, it is necessary to establish a system that is routinely supportive. On that point, although Kyoto University, for example, holds meetings of department heads, due to inhibitions in faculty meetings in one's own department and being restricted from expressing one's opinion regarding other departments, these meetings rarely operate effectively. The Advisory Council also has such a large membership that it has little or no maneuverability. The secretary-general changes every year as well. The university lacked the systematic support necessary for the president to demonstrate his ability to lead."

If the movement toward independent administrative corporations remains solely the responsibility of government officials, and as long as it will not be possible to avoid the inevitable future cuts in students enrolled in university departments, the department-favoring self-government system of the past will no longer be acceptable. It becomes then vividly clear that the president will want to establish an environment in which he can manage departmental affairs. At a private social gathering held by the Minister of Education, the presence of former university presidents from science and engineering backgrounds was conspicuous, and it was reported that voices were also heard in favor of assessing the establishment of corporations. In the "University Reform Bulletin", a series of trends are covered.

But is the leadership of university presidents really such a marvelous thing? Does the president have the power to make changes? As is pointed out by a comparison to Europe and America in the 13th installment of the series, "Will University Reform Succeed?", since the faculty body of Japanese universities is made up mostly of graduates from the same university and owing to a stagnant personnel system, when all is said and done, there will be very little change regardless of what one does.

In August, the University Inquiry Council published a report suggesting that the graduate school entrance examination system ought to be improved, that letters of recommendation and statements of personal history should be abolished, and tests should be made easier to take for students from universities other than that to which they apply. This, though, is an insignificant change. In the currently offered Masters programs at national universities, less than 30% of the students enrolled are from other universities. Students from the same school gather together operating a system of self-government that applies only to themselves, producing no new and unique leadership.

There Can Be Neither Autonomy Nor Independence In An Environment That Has No System For Assessment

If, for example, Japan passed legislation to prohibit promotion of people from within the university as did Germany and it subsequently became necessary to hire professors from outside the college on the merit of their capabilities, the universities in this country would be stymied. Though it would not be difficult to evaluate researchers of international-level credibility in scientific fields, there is no system in place for also evaluating and ranking researchers in their respective fields of literature and the arts.

As such, can a system possibly be devised for dividing up research subsidy budgets equitably? In the final analysis, the Ministry of Education's Scientific Research Subsidy is simply distributed among famous universities and institutions by force of habit. No system exists, such as is found in the United States, wherein the validity of applications is verified by assessing the appropriateness of research plans as they relate to the applications for subsidies and suggestions are made for improving and correcting them before awarding subsidies. Indeed, we are impoverished of people qualified to do such assessment and verification.

In regard to the human weaknesses of this country's system of research evaluation, it may be easier to understand my point if I recount my experiences at the newspaper for which I work. My company funds the ".... Award", which has been called the most prestigious of its kind offered by a private company. Before that we had also sponsored the "....Grant for Scientific Research".

The screening method we used was quite extraordinary. In regard to the research proposals that had been presented, reporters of four companies in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kokura conducted confidential investigations of the specialists and met with each other on several occasions to discuss their cases. Inputs such as, "The initial idea for this job was suggested by a lecturer who had been shuffled off to a certain other university, not the professor presenting the application", and other such information would be collected. Or by making assessments such as, "the discovery of this material rivals the discovery of a disease with many carriers", they sifted through works from an incredible amount of fields. After narrowing down the applications to only those works that would be considered meritorious would they then give a presentation to a committee of company presidents who were not previously briefed regarding the candidates and by which a final decision would be made.

Shortly before I left the science department, however, almost all of the reporters had been replaced with people who could adequately "study" the content of the research referred to in the applications but had no capacity for evaluation. The department had adopted a regular behind-closed-doors method of evaluation. At the very least, when I was part of that team, the award was not once given to a leader of the academic world as a medal for distinguished service; it was awarded only for epoque-making work. It is truly unfortunate that, for the most part, the big domestic awards amount to nothing but awards for meritorious service.

The problem lies in the fact that the retrogression of the company and the researchers progressed conjointly. One would normally think that the younger the generation, the more clear cut the evaluation would be, but it turned out that even in my experience, there were fewer and fewer researchers who made truly incisive assessments. I am reminded of the time when, even in an environment inundated with many harmless, inoffensive and hesitant people, those who were internationally recognized would stand on the pivoting foot of their own research, eagerly offering opinions about work in fields that differed from their own.

It is Doubtful Whether We Really Need Universities

I compiled the following statistics from the General Survey of Universities Bulletin regarding the future plans of this spring's university graduates.

Total 532,335 people

Graduate school or other post-graduate study 54,021

Work 320,072

Clinician/Therapist trainee 6,367

Temporary employment 16,023

Other than the above 105,960

Dead or unidentified 29,892

These are depressing statistics, regardless of the poor state of the economy. Within the group of "Other than the above" is included those with such plans as, "helping with the housework at home" and "planning to enter a vocational school (to re-educate myself)". In the early 1990's, at 80% the employment rate was 20 points higher, so it is likely that there were few people to whom such items applied. The fact that so many people have chosen to become "freelance part-time workers" after graduation from university makes one wonder why universities even exist.

What does private industry whose personnel supply is largely supported by universities, actually think of universities? The intuition of a 20-something year old writer who has recently opened a homepage provocatively entitled "Think or Die", is acutely aware of the now popular stances of "merits and resultism" and "disregard for academic history", and has unearthed the hidden lie. Let us take a look at excerpts from, "Who Is Responsible For The Poor Academic Ability Of University Students?"

"If universities really thought that the poor academic ability of their students would drive the final nail into their coffins surely they would make every effort to find ways to solve the problem. Why do universities make no attempt to do something about improving the situation and worry only about maintaining enrollments?"

"What businesses really want are not students who worked diligently on research in their fields of specialization, wrote superlative graduation theses and developed a sense of pride in their specialist knowledge. They would rather ignore the bad grades of the graduates they hire. Such students would probably be more able to harmonize within a group and be devoid of an odd sense of pride. They want, above all, students who will complete the jobs they are assigned by the company with dispatch and without complaints, students who are malleable and obedient."

"What is fueling most the separation from academic disciplines evident in universities and students is none other than the system of personnel management employed in businesses. Businesses who have placed too much importance on practical administrative ability in the workplace and the ability to harmonize with the ways of the company while at the same time have given little attention to the true meaning of "capability" of the individual, are encouraging the current problem of low academic ability of university students."

It is, as a matter of course, clear why globally recognized ventures are rarely born of universities and university students in this country. Speaking in severe terms, the structure of our society's system of university education is moving in the direction of eliminating anything unique and creative. Although universities should intrinsically be creative environments one can no longer expect them to be so since, as I have said I encountered in my own experiences, people in universities have become unsure of what creativity is.

Nevertheless, something is indeed being given birth to here. I would personally call this a random and spontaneously created phenomenon. The one thing that was common to the two jobs I promoted and helped receive the "..... Award" when I was directly in charge was that, in the beginning, acquaintances cast a cold eye on me, wondering why I would want to put so much effort into a project such as that. Although the fact that fads come and go in research is a global phenomenon, at the bottom of that scale exist some individuals who stubbornly hold on to their original ideas. As long as we continue to turn our attention only to ephemeral trends, we will always end up in second place.

"The Crisis of Life or Death of the Nation" is a criticism of recent tendencies among people in universities. The arguments presented in the early part of the document being what they may, in my opinion, only the latter portion rings true.

"The most important thing is for universities to always uphold integrity and, in the statements they make, live up to the standards expected of them as universities. When debates began over the issue of university reform in a session of a meeting of the Physics Society, I recall that those who attended from industrial and business concerns said, "what universities are thinking is a mystery; universities should be more clear in the statements they make". Public opinion is that universities are not self-assertive. Since this is indeed the case, such opinions are perfectly reasonable. The first step will be seen in the very changes in the situation in the future.

The problem lies in what can be said. The era in which anything was made possible by intoning the doctrines of freedom of research and academic freedom has long since past.

(special thanks to translation by j-watch)

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