Japanese seek approved status

August 20, 2004

JAPAN. As the learning market looks set to go global, Times Higher writers check out how rogues are weeded out worldwide

Japan has the second-largest higher education system in the world, with more than 1,200 universities and colleges.

This system is also one of the world's more internationalised, with about 110,000 overseas students - mostly from East and Southeast Asia - included in a total enrolment of 3.9 million.

The sheer size of this system could lead to a great deal of unevenness in standards and comparability in admissions, administration, curriculum, evaluation and grade transfers.

American-style accreditation is not yet that important in Japan. The Ministry of Education has been the central authority in the postwar era, overseeing the establishment and recognition of tertiary institutions.

All-important is the status of gakko hojin (educational corporation) that only the government can grant. To obtain this status, institutions are required to meet specific criteria regarding administration and governance, curriculum, physical facilities, accounting and finances, and land holdings. The status confers numerous benefits on the institution and its students, including eligibility for government grants, tuition subsidies, deferred loans, scholarships and preferential treatment on tax law and social insurance fees. Students attending a university or college designated as a gakko hojin are even eligible for discounted rail passes.

After a short-lived boom in foreign universities establishing themselves in Japan, the only full-scale foreign university remaining is the Temple University of Japan (TUJ), offering programmes such as a US law degree and an MA-Tesol. TUJ asserts that the high ranking and US-based accreditation of TUJ and its programmes guarantees the quality of its operations in Japan.

Some wary Japanese educators have expressed doubts. TUJ's administrators have repeatedly criticised the Japanese university system and the government for being prejudiced against the US institution. But TUJ has never applied for gakko hojin status, citing concerns about loss of control over its curriculum. It recently tried to get preferential treatment equivalent to gakko hojin status as part of prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's legislative efforts to create special deregulated economic zones, but it seems unlikely that the government will legislate for one institution.

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