More of Japan's 500 universities are introducing continuing education programmes to raise enrolments following a sharp drop in the number of school-leaver entrants.
The passing of the second "baby boom" generation into adulthood, coupled with the declining importance of lifetime employment practices and a trend for midlife career changes has led to demand for additional university qualifications.
In addition, career opportunities for female employees has meant more married women are relinquishing their traditional housekeeping roles to study for careers in law, business and education.
Although most part-time students are enrolling in evening classes, the scramble to attract new students has encouraged some universities to offer day-time continuing education courses in which part-time students are able to study alongside full-time students.
The education ministry has also allowed universities to integrate day-time continuing education courses, which are particularly popular with housewives and the unemployed, with full-time degree courses.
Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University has introduced courses in law, economics, business administration and humanities for continuing education students who want to study alongside mainstream students. Eighty places for continuing education students have been created in each of the departments participating in the scheme.
Officials at Ritsumeikan say the university received 600 applications for the day-time continuing education courses which were organised for the 1996/97 academic session starting in April. Lecturers have welcomed the idea of integrating part-time students with full-time students.
Sohei Isaka, a university administrator, said: "Older students are more committed to their studies and set a good example to younger students.
"Many younger students continue to treat their higher education as a four-year holiday between school and work."
Hisomichi Sekimoto adds: "Older students bring firsthand experience of the workplace into university seminars and workshops. It is interesting to work alongside them."
Tuition fees received from part-time students are helping to bolster the incomes of cash-starved universities. Private universities in particular are becoming dependent on new sources of income.
But not everyone is keen on the idea of older students joining younger students in the lecture hall. "Older students are out of place on university campuses," one student newspaper recently complained. "The older students are only here to relive their youth."