electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Discussion Paper 7 in 2005
First published in ejcjs on 4 November 2005


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Japanese Higher Education Institutions in the 21st Century

The Challenge of Globalization and Internationalization

by

Kumiko Aoki

Associate Professor
National Institute of Multimedia Education
Japan

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Abstract

Higher education institutions in Japan are facing unprecedented challenges today due to the following three factors:

  1. the decrease in the size of college age cohorts in the coming years;
  2. heightened expectations in the modes of instructional delivery through the advances of information and communication technologies (ICT);
  3. global competition for college students worldwide especially from English-speaking countries.

This paper examines internationalization of higher education in Japan in terms of:

  1. foreign faculty members in Japan,
  2. foreign tertiary students in Japan,
  3. Japanese students studying abroad,
  4. branch campuses of foreign colleges and universities in Japan,
  5. off-shore campuses of Japanese colleges and universities, and
  6. cross-border higher education through e-learning.

Introduction

Higher education institutions in Japan are facing unprecedented challenges today due to the following three factors:

  1. the decrease in the size of college age cohorts in the coming years;
  2. heightened expectations in the modes of instructional delivery through the advances of information and communication technologies; and
  3. global competition for college students worldwide especially from English-speaking countries.

In order to counter those challenges, colleges and universities in Japan are starting to take measures:

  1. to expand their student base by encouraging adult learners to pursue life-long and life-wide learning and promoting foreign studentsí enrollment,
  2. build infrastructure for effective and efficient use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in instructional delivery on campus as well as off campus, and
  3. offer courses in English to attract foreign students to study in Japan.

The Japanese government has started to realize the trend towards the globalization of higher education and has responded to it by slowly changing the regulatory framework for cross-border provision of higher education both inwardly and outwardly.

In the following sections, I will discuss the state of internationalization of higher education institutions in Japan. Here internationalization of higher education institutions is defined as:

... a change process from a national higher education institution to an international higher education institution leading to the inclusion of an international dimension in all aspects of its holistic management in order to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and to achieve the desired competencies. (Soderqvist, 2002, p.29)

In consideration of the above definition, in this paper I will discuss the tangible aspects of the internationalization process among Japanese higher education institutions, namely:

  1. the hiring status of foreign instructors,
  2. the number of foreign students,
  3. the number of Japanese students who study abroad,
  4. the status of off-shore campuses by Japanese colleges and universities,
  5. the status of branches of foreign colleges and universities in Japan, and
  6. the state of cross-border e-learning or distance learning delivery concerning Japanese colleges and universities.

Foreign Faculty Members in Japan

A predecessor to the establishment of universities in Japan was founded in 1869, only a year after the Meiji Restoration, combining ministerial schools and a medical school that had been created during the Edo period. It became the University of Tokyo in 1877, and was renamed as Tokyo Imperial University in 1886. As higher education was an alien idea for several years after the Meiji restoration in Japan, it was dominated by invited foreign instructors and most classes were taught in foreign languages. According to Kitamura (1984), such foreign influence upon higher education in Japan was not something which emerged organically, but was a forced measure by the government to absorb the latest scholarly activities and academic skills in Western countries most effectively and efficiently.

However, due to the high cost of hiring foreign professors and the disgrace of relying upon foreigners for the nationís higher education development, the government gradually shifted its policy to sending Japanese students to overseas universities instead. Those students came back to Japan after the completion of their studies abroad and became instructors in Japanese universities, thereby gradually replacing the foreign instructors. Since then, higher education in Japan has increasingly become nationalized, moving in the opposite direction to the principle of internationalization (Kitamura, 1984).

The status of those instructors who were not Japanese citizens had not been improved until 1982 when the 'law concerning the employment of foreign instructors' was enacted, allowing foreign instructors to participate in a 'faculty assembly' of a Japanese university. Though the law has moved higher education institutions in Japan a step closer to internationalization by allowing foreigners to be part of the decision-making process in universities, still there are limitations articulated in the law for foreign instructors to become true members of the universities as it prevents foreigners from becoming administrative officers and it delegates each university to determine the length of the foreign instructorís contract.

Thanks to the law, the number of foreign instructors in four-year colleges and universities has quadrupled since 1982, from 1,255 to 5,286 in 2002 (see Figure 1), while the number of faculty members in total has only doubled (see Figure 2). The actual percentage of foreign faculty members has increased from .97% in 1982 to 3.41% in 2002, which is almost equivalent to the percentage of foreign faculty members in the U.S. (3.36%). Though in the U.S. the number is somewhat tricky as it may exclude those who were born in foreign countries but were naturalized or became permanent residents.

Figure 1

Source: The Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University.

Figure 2

Source: The Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University.

Foreign Tertiary Students in Japan

Due to the Japanization policy of higher education institutions in Japan, foreign studentsí enrolment had not been encouraged or sought in the early days of Japanese universities. However, in the 1980s the society had entered into the so-called 'information age' and the Japanese government started to reconsider the lack of internationalization or the small number of foreign students in Japanese higher education institutions in comparison to that of other advanced nations. Hence, in 1983 the Japanese Ministry of Education set forth 'the Plan to Accept 100,000 Foreign Students,' and started to develop systems and infrastructure to increase the number of foreign students at higher education institutions in Japan to 100,000 from less than 10,000.

As shown in Figure 3, the number of foreign students in Japanese colleges and universities has increased dramatically since the plan was implemented in 1983. In May 2003, 20 years after the implementation of the plan, the number of foreign students in Japanese colleges and universities reached 109,509, thereby achieving the government's goal. With the increase of the number of foreign students in Japan, the percentage of those who were government-funded declined from 23.1% at its peak in 1981 to 11.6% in 2002.

Figure 3

Source: The Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University.

Figure 4

Source: The Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University.

Looking at the number of foreign students by their originating region shown in Figure 4, students from East Asian countries comprise the great majority of total foreign students in Japan. In fact, the percentage of East Asian students out of the total number of foreign students has been increasing from 72.8% at its lowest point in 1976 to 89.2% in 2002. Among East Asian students, those from China and Korea comprise the greatest majority, being 91.1% of the total of East Asian students in 2002 (see Figure 5). The percentage of students from these two countries has also been steadily rising from 62.5% in 1973. In other words, the internationalization of higher education in Japan in terms of accepting foreign students is largely dependent upon students from China and Korea. Arimoto and Ye (2005) actually call this an 'asianization' of higher education instead of the more conventional 'internationalization.'

Though the number of foreign students has dramatically increased since the implementation of the 1983 plan, in comparison to other OECD countries the percentage of foreign students out of the total number of students in higher education is still very small in Japan, being only 3.0% in 2003 while it was 18.5% in U.K. and 15.2% in Australia (Ohmori, 2004a). In addition, there has been a growing concern over the quality of foreign students as well as concern over the inadequacy of acceptance mechanisms in universities to respond to the growing number of incoming foreign students.

Figure 5

Source: The Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University.

Japanese Students Studying Abroad

Though foreign students in Japanese colleges and universities are mostly from East Asian countries, particularly China and Korea, as discussed previously, the destination of the majority of Japanese students who study abroad is the U.S. and Europe as shown in Table 1, which creates imbalances in terms of the import and export of higher education in Japan.

Table 1: Number of Japanese Students Abroad by Country (MEXT, 2004)

Country # of Students Sent
U.S. 46,810
China 14,692
U.K. 6,206
Australia 2,407
Germany 2,182
Canada 1,478
France 1,439

In fact, looking at the student flow between the U.S. and Japan, the U.S. sent only 1,553 students to Japan while Japan sent 46,810 students to the U.S. in 2003 (MEXT, 2004).
The government policy for internationalization of higher education in Japan had focused mostly on accepting a greater number of foreign students into Japanese colleges and universities so far. Though it is considered to be obvious that the number of Japanese students who study abroad has also increased dramatically, it is very difficult to get a clear picture of its status as there are many students who choose to take a leave-of-absence from their universities to study abroad, or to be enrolled in an overseas university for the entire degree program, bypassing the Japanese higher education system altogether. The total number of these students is difficult to be accounted for. According to the report put out by MEXT (2004), about 78,000 Japanese students went abroad to study in 2001, though in reality the number could be much larger.

In terms of sending Japanese students abroad, historically so-called 'tan-puro' (short-term study abroad programs) have played an important role. These tan-puro were implemented at those colleges and universities abroad with whom Japanese institutions had exchange programs based on exchange agreements between the universities in Japan and those in foreign countries. The lengths of those programs range from one month to several months and usually credits earned abroad through the programs are counted towards graduation. This is an effective use of studentsí time and should be encouraged for educating Japanese students to experience different cultures and to gain greater global perspectives.

Recognizing the need for developing strategic plans to promote more long-term study abroad programs for Japanese students or research abroad programs for Japanese researchers to facilitate internationalization of higher education in Japan, in 2004 the Ministry of Education (MEXT) started a new scholarship and fellowship program to help Japanese students earn masters or doctoral degrees at overseas graduate schools (Arimoto and Ye, 2005). Its main purpose is 'the education and training of outstanding human resources specialists, capable of working in an ever-internationalizing society to improve Japanís competitiveness in and contribution to the international community' (MEXT, 2004, p.40).

Though sending students to overseas universities to earn a degree may be the most effective way to educate them to gain global perspectives, it may jeopardize higher education markets in Japan in the long run. Developing strategic partnerships with overseas universities for appropriate credit transfer systems and bi-directional student exchange will serve universities at both ends and help bring about the internationalization of those colleges and universities.

Branch Campuses of Foreign Colleges and Universities in Japan

The internationalization of higher education does not only concern itself with movement of people, whether students or teachers, but also with the physical set-ups of branch campuses of institutions; branch campuses of foreign institutions or off-shore campuses of Japanese higher education institutions. Potentially, branch campuses of foreign institutions in Japan may provide students in Japan with opportunities to experience a foreign university system and curriculum without leaving the country.

The legal framework for the Japanese higher education system had been based on the territorial principle, which meant any institution who wanted to be recognized as a higher education institution in Japan had to be accredited by MEXT (Kumura, Yonezawa and Ohmori, 2004) regardless of their status in their home countries. By the early 1990s, approximately 40 American universities had launched off-shore programs in Japan. However, they did not seek accreditation from the Japanese government because, in order for them to be accredited, they had to go through a cumbersome process of re-establishing themselves as higher education institutions under the Japanese law which was designed primarily for domestic universities and colleges. Therefore, they had few choices other than being operated outside the legal framework of Japanese higher education.

Because most branch campuses of foreign universities were not accredited, students enrolled in those branch campuses could not receive the same benefits as those in Japanese universities such as receiving student discounts on public transportation or being eligibility for governmental financial aid. In addition, as they do not obtain accredited degrees, they are not eligible to apply for admission to the graduate programs of Japanese public universities upon graduation. Because of those reasons explained above and due to their unfavorable tax treatment, it was very difficult for a branch campus to operate in a financially viable manner, and many such programs have shut down after a short trial period. Only three out of the 40 foreign branch campuses in Japan that had been established in the 1980s and 1990s have survived and only one of them, Temple University Japan (TUJ), still offers full degree programs (Ohmori, 2004b; ACCJ, 2004). The other two campuses are Ciao International Village, which offers English language programs, and University of Maryland University College (UMUC), which is a special campus for Americans on military bases (Arimoto and Ye, 2005).

In November 2004, under the pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiations, and due to the Prime Ministerís educational reforms, MEXT implemented a new policy to recognize branch campuses of foreign universities, once their home institutions have gained accreditation in their home countries and their statuses are verified by the U.S. embassy. In other words, the degrees and credits obtained at the branch campuses of foreign universities are deemed equivalent to those obtained in their home countries by studying abroad. Since then, Japanese universities have started to accept both transfer credits and graduate students from branch campuses of foreign institutions.

The internationalization of higher education in terms of allowing foreign universities to set up their branch campuses in Japan has just began, which may be far behind those of other Asian nations such as China, Singapore, and Thailand. How this law actually affects the internationalization of traditional campuses remains to be seen.

Off-Shore Campuses of Japanese Colleges and Universities

The same territorial principle has applied to off-shore campuses of Japanese higher education institutions until recently. Even though the mother institution was accredited in Japan, its off-shore campus could not be accredited by the Japanese government; hence, the degrees offered in those off-shore campuses were not recognized as Japanese degrees, though it was free for the off-shore campuses to seek accreditation from an authority in the country where they operated.

In the 1980s, Japanese universities established branch campuses in several foreign countries, mostly for the purpose of sending their students in Japan overseas (Arimoto and Ye, 2005). According to Arimoto and Ye (2005), even today there are only five off-shore campuses of Japanese institutions: Hawaii Tokai International College, Soka University of America, Warner Pacific College in the U.S., Winchester Shoei College in England, and International Pacific College in New Zealand. After the new policy implementations discussed above, some large universities in Japan, such as Waseda University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, are now starting to aggressively consider the establishment of off-shore campuses (Ohmori, 2004b).

In April 2005, the new policies discussed previously also have started to apply to off-shore campuses of Japanese colleges and universities. According to the new policy, the Japanese government recognizes off-shore programs and degrees offered by Japanese colleges and universities, if the required standards are satisfied under the national quality assurance framework (Ohmori, 2004b). Under this new policy, an off-shore campus of a Japanese institution can be accredited by both an authoritative body of the country where the campus is located and by the Japanese government, or can choose not to be accredited by either of them.

Cross-Border Higher Education and Through E-Learning

Though student and academic mobility will continue to be the primary form of internationalization of higher education in the foreseeable future, a new form of cross-border education through e-learning is gradually coming onto the scene in many parts of the world. Usually collaborating with for-profit corporations such as publishing houses, provision of e-learning in a global scale is happening as seen in Cardean University and U21 Global.

Though cross-border e-learning originating in an institution in Japan has yet to be seen, the Japanese government has been proactive in preparing for it in terms of its quality assurance by working towards establishment of a higher education quality assurance network in the region (Daigaku Kijun Kyokai, 2002). As for degrees obtained through e-learning in Japan, they were not recognized prior to March 2001, but, the situation has changed since then and now they are recognized officially as long as the degrees are offered by an accredited institution in Japan (Arimoto and Ye, 2005). In terms of cross-border e-learning, under the new policy, both inwards to Japan (i.e., foreign providers providing education to students in Japan) and outwards from Japan (i.e., Japanese providers providing education to students in foreign countries) are allowed and recognized as long as the institutions who are offering e-leaning programs are accredited in their home countries.

The regulatory ground for promoting cross-border e-learning in Japan is now ready. There are a number of e-learning programs offered by foreign providers, particularly online MBA programs, available to people in Japan. However, Japanese higher education institutions in general are not very active in e-learning yet, not to mention cross-border e-learning.

Conclusion

Responding to the internal as well as external pressures for globalization, Japanese higher education institutions seem to be moving slowly in the direction of internationalization. The Japanese government has recognized the needs of internationalization of higher education markets in Japan and has gradually been adopting policies to facilitate internationalization among universities and colleges. The regulatory framework for internationalization of higher education in Japan seems ready.

However, having a regulatory framework is only one step towards the internationalization of higher education in Japan. Knight (2004) identifies two levels of internationalization: the national/sector level and the institutional level, and states it is at the institutional level that the real internationalization process takes place. At the institutional level, there are still many obstacles for Japanese higher education institutions to be truly competitive in the coming global educational market. In order for Japanese higher education institutions to be truly competitive, they have to attract top-quality researchers and students and to operate globally across borders physically as well as virtually.

The numbers of foreign faculty members in Japan have increased steadily over years. However, still Japan may not be an ideal destination for foreign academicians for their career enhancement as subtle discriminations or limitations against foreign faculty members still seem to exist in Japanese institutions in their promotions and the roles they can play in decision making. The number of foreign students has increased dramatically since the early 1980s due to the aggressive governmental policy to increase the number of foreign students. However, problems concerning foreign students in terms of their student status and financial difficulties have started to surface recently and the quality of foreign students has started to be questioned as well. True internationalization of higher education should not be assessed only by the number of foreign students, but also by their quality. In addition, what is often left out in the discussion of internationalization of higher education in Japan is the inclusion of an international, intercultural, and global dimension into the curriculum. The mobility of students and teachers or international partnerships for academic programs and research initiatives are not enough for true internationalization of higher education. It has to be accompanied by innovative curricula for students and teachers to benefit from such internationalization.

The regulatory frameworks for off-shore campuses of foreign universities in Japan and off-shore campuses of Japanese universities are liberalized now that programs in both cases are recognized in Japan. However, the financial viability of establishing off-shore campuses in Japan by foreign universities or that of establishing off-shore campuses by Japanese universities is still questionable. There will be more collaborations and consortiums with Japanese and foreign institutions to expand their student markets beyond their national boundaries. This also applies to cross-border e-learning. Japan is not an active player in cross-border e-learning yet, but now that many institutions abroad, especially those originating in English-speaking countries, are aggressively marketing their programs beyond their national borders, it is imperative for Japanese institutions to make strategic plans to enter into the game as well. If they do not do it in time, Japan may be left behind other countries in the internationalization of its higher education. In this age of global economy, that may be suicidal not only to Japanís higher education, but also to the countryís economy as well in the long run.


References

ACCJ. (2004). From goals to reality. ACCJ FDI Task Force Specific Policy Recommendation #4-Education.

Arimoto, A. & Ye, L. (2005). WTO/GATS and cross-border higher education country report: Japan. UNESCO Regional Seminar on the Implication of WTO/GATS on Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific.

Daigaku Kijun Kyokai. (2002). Conference Declaration: Quality Assurance of Internationally Viable Higher Education. Accessed: October 2005.

Kimura, T., Yonezawa, A. & Ohmori, F. (2004). Quality assurance and recognition of qualifications in higher education: Japan. Quality and Recognition in Higher Education Ė The Cross-Border Challenge, pp. 119-130. OECD.

Kitamura, K. (1984). Daigaku kyoiku no kokusaika [Internationalization of higher education]. Tokyo, Japan: Tamagawa University Publication.

Knight, J. (2004). Internationalization remodeled: Definition, approaches, and rationales. Journal of Studies in International Education, 8(1), 5-31.

MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan). (2004). Outline of the Student Exchange System in Japan. Accessed: October 2005.

Ohmori, F. (2004a). Japanís policy changes to recognise transnational higher education: Adaptation of the national system to globalisation? The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education Report.

Ohmori, F. (2004b). Japan and transnational higher education. Center for International Higher Education Newsletter, #37. Accessed: October 2005.

Soderqvist, M. (2002). Internationalization and its management at higher-education institutions: Applying conceptual, content and discourse analysis. Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki School of Economics.

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About the author

Kumiko Aoki is Associate Professor at the National Institute of Multimedia Education in Japan where she conducts research on internationalization of higher education in Japan and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in international exchanges. She has an MA in Communication from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Communication and Information Sciences from the University of Hawaii. Previously she was Assistant Professor in Information Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Assistant Professor in Communication at Boston University in the U.S.

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Copyright: Kumiko Aoki
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