Industry urges Japan's engineers to get practical

July 31, 1998

Japanese universities are being urged to improve standards in their engineering faculties as fears mount that the country is losing its competitive edge.

The content of engineering courses, the quality of teaching and the levels of funding are just some of the areas which critics say require closer scrutiny.

The most vocal and persistent calls for change come from Japan's beleaguered industrial sector, which says that engineering faculties at the country's universities are failing to produce the sort of graduates the country urgently requires.

In particular, engineering faculties have been accused of devoting too much time to the development of theoretical and research skills rather than practical workplace skills.

The demand comes at a time when Japan is officially in recession.

One specific suggestion for raising standards in engineering education is the creation of an independent body to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of the courses on offer at universities. Such a body would also have the task of highlighting weaknesses in teaching standards and facilities.

The introduction of more rigorous evaluation programmes is one of the most topical issues in Japanese higher education.

"The idea of explicit evaluation programmes is vehemently opposed by many Japanese lecturers and researchers," said journalist Yoshio Sato.

"Many universities know the quality of teaching and the resources available in their engineering faculties are poor and believe that adverse criticism and public awareness of their weaknesses will do little to improve matters."

The Japanese Society for Engineering Education and representatives of the Japan Federation of Economic Organisations are to study a number of ways of improving standards of engineering education at Japanese universities.

It has already been agreed that more should be done to encourage high-school pupils to opt for engineering courses.

The growing popularity of business and information technology courses has left engineering faculties struggling to attract the country's most talented students.

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