Trends in Japanese Higher Education:
Part One - Universities Suffer as the Population Declines
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
In Japan, the number of school-age children in the population peaked in 1992 and has been in decline ever since. As the number of young people steadily continues to drop, the long-term consequences of this demographic shift are beginning to seriously impact on universities and colleges. This trend has now created a situation in which most sectors of higher education are experiencing some form of financial difficulty stemming from the natural decline in student numbers. More seriously, a shortage of students means that some institutions are facing the very real prospect of bankruptcy.
Over the last few years, several excellent Japanese books on the student number crisis in higher education have been published and numerous articles have been written on the problems facing the nation's universities. Daigaku no Houkai [Collapse of the Universities] by Ukawa and Noda (2000) is a typical example of the genre. It examines the challenges facing many universities. In 2003, perhaps the most widely read publication on this subject is Abunai daigaku - Kieru daigaku 2003 [Going broke universities - Disappearing universities: 2003] by Kiyoshi Shimano (2002).
Shimano first published his book in 1993 under the title Abunai daigaku - Kieru daigaku [Going broke universities - Disappearing universities] and produced a revised version in 1996. Since then he has tracked the fortunes of Japan's universities with an updated edition of his research almost every year.
In the series of books, Japanese universities most at risk of going out of business are sorted in special tables according to the level of danger. In the latest edition published in 2002, there are three endangered categories. In ascending order of severity, at the bottom end is "F Group" which designates universities with severe problems. The next level up is "G Group" which indicates those institutions in a fairly critical condition. At the top end of the scale is "N Group" which is reserved for those establishments Shimano considers face imminent extinction.
The "N Group" category was introduced for the first time in the 2001 published edition. Prior to this, some universities had been omitted from the book due to a lack of data. The "N Group" now includes those universities which try to conceal their true financial condition by failing to provide data on student numbers and the level of prospective candidates.
It is important to point out that most institutions Shimano mentions as being in dire straits are making every conceivable effort to avoid closure. A listing in his book does not mean extinction is imminent, but it does highlight the difficult path that lies ahead for these universities and colleges.
The work of Shimano and others provides in-depth analysis of the difficulties facing many of Japan's struggling universities. Responding to turbulent situation, the university sector has been undergoing a period of substantive restructuring. This transitional phase is likely to last several years before the scene eventually stabilizes. During this time quite a number of universities will probably disappear, but it is to be hoped that those that survive will be better equipped to meet the challenges of the nascent century.
Trends in Japanese Higher Education Series
Gender Equality in Japanese Education
Youth Trends in Japan
The Declining Birthrate in Japan
Shimano, Kiyoshi (2002) Abunai dagaku - Kieru daigaku 2003 [Going broke universities - Disappearing universities: 2003]. Tokyo: Yell Shupansha.
http://shopping.yahoo.co.jp/shop?d=jb&id=30941854 (Japanese link)
Ukawa, N., and Noda, K. (2000)Daigaku no houkai - taidan: kono kiki wo sukuu michi wa aru ka [Collapse of the Universities - A dialogue: is there a way to help us out of the crisis] Tokyo: Intsushinsha.