Japan's brightest to take fast track

November 20, 1998

University students with exceptional grades should be allowed to graduate after three years instead of the present four, according to Japan's University Council.

The suggestion is part of a package of measures proposed to raise academic standards and increase flexibility in higher education.

If, as expected, the suggestion is implemented, the number of students taking graduate courses will rise from 180,000 this year to 250,000 by 2010, according to the council's calculations.

Detailed plans for a fast track for exceptional students have already been submitted to Akito Arima, Japan's reform-minded minister of education, and could be implemented as early as April 2000.

In addition to raising academic standards the measure will also help to eliminate the "leisure land" image of Japanese universities in which talented students skip classes and generally "coast" to their degree awards.

The council has also proposed a series of measures to help universities accommodate students with a wider range of academic abilities. One suggestion is that some students should limit the number of courses they take, and the number of credits they are expected to achieve, in order to give themselves more time to study.

Another recommendation is for the establishment of an external body to formulate proposals for resolving some of the more controversial aspects of the reform. One of the thorniest issues, which the council has been unable to resolve, is evaluation.

The introduction of measures to enable educational and research results to be evaluated, and for the results of evaluation exercises to be linked to budget allocations, continues to be opposed by many academics.

Evaluation systems, many academics argue, are unreliable and will only lead to division and discord.

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