A Fad in Japanese College Education
Tomohiko Taniguchi (Editor-at-Large, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)
A year from now we will see Japan's equivalents of the Fletcher School, Kennedy School, Sloan School, Tuck School and Woodrow Wilson School all established, operating to teach almost every subject in English.
In the field of science, Keio University for one has already started to offer PhD courses in advanced science and technology, every discipline of which is taught in English. From next year, Keio will have what they tentatively call a Graduate School for Strategic Studies, where English is going to be the primary language.
Next spring, Waseda University, Keio's traditional rival, will open an International College, an undergraduate course, and a Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, each of which is supposed to gather more than half of its student population from abroad, and they will therefore adopt English, not Japanese, as the common language.
In another college town of Kyoto, Rits (the self-proclaimed nickname of Ritsumeikan University) is running English-based graduate programmes such as International Technology and Management and Global Cooperation, and the university is hastily adding to its curriculum even more courses and programmes for which English is a required language.
A shockwave hit the nation early last year when college administrators came to hear of what the Massachusetts Institute of Technoloy was attempting. MIT is now making the most of its syllabi, teaching materials, course work, and instructions accessible from around the world without charging a penny (more about what is called OpenCourseWare, see http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html).
The writing suddenly appeared on the wall - Japanese college educators learnt that the longer they protect themselves behind the wall of the Japanese language, the less they would attract non-Japanese students, who make a potentially important source of revenue for Japanese universities that are faced with an ever-shrinking customer population in their domestic market.
Looking around, the college education market in Asia is awash with tidal waves of globalisation. Beijing University has tied up with the French INSEAD, and the National University of Singapore with a plethora of brand name universities: MIT, UCLA, and King's College in the UK to name just a few.
Hirotaka Takeuchi, who started an English-only MBA course at the national university Hitotsubashi, once told me that an increasing number of Japanese high-achieving 18 year-olds go directly to US colleges, bypassing even Todai (The University of Tokyo) or Hitotsubashi, as they deem them backward and irrelevant. That the Beijing government is sending 50 top bureaucrats to Harvard every year also scared many in Japan, as they know their public servants - irrespective of the high points they scored in Todai - are hugely uncompetitive in international negotiations.
Competition, therefore, is the name of the game. With national universities all undergoing once-in-a-century transitions to become QUANGOs (British jargon meaning quasi non governmental organisations) by the next fiscal year, they too are obsessed with ridding themselves of their ivory tower mindsets. Todai claims that the graduate college they will launch next spring will be Japan's equivalent of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, while its fellow universities nationwide are busily establishing law schools and other professional graduate colleges. Welcome to the Wild West of Japanese education.
Undoubtedly this is a welcome development. Dons complain that their workloads will become much heavier. However, this is tolerable as they have thus far been amongst the lightest in Japan's workaholic environment. It is equally unthinkable that each and every university will find a safe seat on this English and professional bandwagon. Teachers who are competent in their command in English are scarce, to begin with. One should expect a process of natural selection and the survival of the fittest to follow. This too is welcome, as only by competition of the Darwinian kind will emerge, say, the best 50 colleges in Japan.