Social sciences and humanities faculties 'to close' in Japan after ministerial intervention

Universities to scale back liberal arts and social science courses

September 14, 2015

Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”, it has been reported.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government, according to a survey of university presidents by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakubun Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial intervention has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will restrict the recruitment of students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to the survey, which was reported by the blog Social Science Space.

It reports that the Science Council of Japan put out a statement late last month that expressed its “profound concern over the potentially grave impact that such an administrative directive implies for the future of the HSS [humanities and social sciences] in Japan.

The call to close the liberal arts and social science faculties are believed to be part of wider efforts by prime minister Shinzo Abe to promote what he has called “more practical vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society”.

However, it is likely to be connected with ongoing financial pressures on Japanese universities, linked to a low birth rate and falling numbers of students, which have led to many institutions running at less than 50 per cent of capacity.


The Social Science Space blog referred to in this article states that 17 universities will cease recruiting students to humanities and social science courses. However, the original Yomiuri Shimbun report suggests rather that these institutions plan to restrict recruitment. The article has been amended to reflect this. A more in-depth look at this issue is available here.

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Reader's comments (20)

That needs to happen here and everywhere else. Liberal arts and social pseudo-science have done irreparable harm to our society, these people major in subjects that are entirely about opinion, belief, values, etc., and then pretend that it's legitimate science and fact, and they've worked to institutionalize every aspect of our lives based on their ideological prejudices simply so they can feel like 'experts' when they're not. The world doesn't need people pretending to be experts on children, or on relationships, or feelings, we don't need social workers and psychologists, we need control over our lives and the freedom to raise our own children without some 'experts' intervening.
Daniel Johnson. You've dropped into one aspect of the humanities and decided that we need to get rid of the lot. I've worked as a civil surveyor, a profession deeply embedded in the sciences but am now studying sociology and consider the skills and tools I've learned to be of the utmost importance. I have studied no psychology, no social work, I have received no training in relationships. What I have studied is politics, both local and international. I have been trained to critically assess written and verbal communication and can comment and address questions from more than one epistemology, or if you like ideology. I have studied history, because it is by looking backwards we avoid repeating mistakes. I have studied geography, both physical and cultural and have been introduced to the world of statistics. My field addresses the design of urban spaces, it explores other cultures who see the world in a way different to ourselves. It informs the government and the private sector what services need to be established in what area because it is the humanities that deciphers the complexities of demographics. How many schools need to be built in this area? Are the roads developed enough to carry the traffic to where it needs to go? How many old folks homes will we need in ten years? How many hospitals? When someone says we live in an aging society it is a scientist from the humanities that has examined the factors that contribute to that finding. The research papers out of the UN on multi-scalar governance, or on the vagaries of the free market have been written by those trained in the humanities. Economics, Trade, Politics, Geography, History, Anthropology, Law, Policy Development, GSI, linguistics and even market research. All children of the humanities. At its simplest sociology is the study of society and if you want control over your own life, whatever that means to you, the only way you can begin to address that is by having an understanding of the world around you. This world is constructed on the liberal arts, but not your idea of liberal arts. You're talking about something that I suspect is not even real. Spend three minutes on Google and I suspect you could triple your knowledge. The last paragraph of this article talks a lot to the reasoning behind this move. If you had a sociological perspective you would be looking at the birth rate of Japan, this is to have a great bearing on much of the policy coming out of this country.
Jon Gray, I would like to point out that determining the number of hospitals, or the needs of an ageing society or the complexities of demographics is done very ably by Statisticians and the study of road requirements by Civil Engineers. Economics is largely mathematics, Geography is firmly rooted in sciences like geophysics and meteorology, physical anthropology which actually gives us useful insights is very scientific unlike it's humanities cousin social anthropology, which we can easily do without. The study of Law and History is actually necessary as it follows established logic rather than appealing to feelings and beliefs, so these are not children of humanities. Policy development is done in many cases without any need for know-it-all sociologists and we would be much better if all policies were made by people who were experts in their fields. Last time I checked Linguistics did not resort to appeal to feelings rather evidence is what makes or breaks the theories in Linguistics, thus it is science too. Trying to dress up liberal arts and sociology in a cloak of legitimate scientific fields will not change the fact that it has been an utter failure at providing us with any understanding of the "world around us".
Percy Percy, your illiteracy on what is gained by learning the social sciences and humanities is disgusting. And it shows why MORE, not less, of Cultural Anthropology and Philosophy is needed., and Economics as a subject abolished. Without philosophy, idiots who nonetheless think themselves as 'experts' are produced. What philosophy does is to break the category of an expert - and show how producing such categories is a pernicious form of ideology that one needs to subvert from within. Remember, the financial meltdown was not caused by Social Scientists and Humanities researchers, but by economists, lawyers, political scientists. Good philosophers have seen it coming miles and decades away.
Spectres and Spectacle. Illiteracy, you say? Then why is it that Cultural Anthropology's only achievement since it's inception has been to produce a canon of dogma with no power of prediction, disguised as profound discoveries and after all this shouting persecution each time someone points this out. How do you propose that Philosophy is going to help us in this modern age? Philosophy did not get us out of the dark ages, science did. What is Philosophy good for anyway? It does not help us in understanding resource allocation, Nature, medicine, engineering, you know the things that are actually necessary for our survival and growth. What it does is provide fools the chance to hide behind intellectual sounding language to hide the fact that they are fools. You talk about abolishing Economics. How do you propose to replace it? With a bunch of Philosophers discussing the morality of some 18th century philosopher or something? Because this is exactly the type of "insight" and "contribution" philosophers make. Good philosophers saw the meltdown coming decades ago? Yeah, and Nostradamus is supposed to have predicted the world wars and Mayans predicted the end of the world.
Again, Percy Percy, it's laughable and deplorable in equal measure how little you know of the world around you. Good philosophy is about asking the right questions, and you've not only asked the wrong ones but are unwilling to learn how they are comprised of dogma and inconsistencies. The right questions are the essence of not only life, but justice, sustainable fiscal practices and protection of the marginalized. As for economics, the shortest possible response I can give you is that its foundation is rationality. Man has never been and is not a rational being. This alone has the potential for tremendous justice, and this is only "the beginning of the beginning" of the issues with economics. For the rest, go read a book. :)
Percy Percy. And by the way, it was Philosophy that did get us out of the dark ages, not "science". Have you been watching too much History Channel? I would strongly suggest you read a good book before making any more presumptions - Thomas Kuhn is a good starting point, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
Have theories of Philosophy got any predictive power though? Philosophers did not take us to the moon nor did they invent the smallpox vaccine. They don't put their theories to test. All they do is talk intellectual sounding gibberish. "Man has never been and is not a rational being." Whatever that is supposed to mean. I suppose the fact that all mechanical parts eventually fail would obviate the need for going to the trouble of making machines by your logic. Newton, Galileo, Maxwell, Darwin, Pasteur, et al were all philosophers then?
Percy Percy: Hahah... perhaps the right question would be, how have you come to accept that the truth (data, 'knowledge' or whatever else you want to call it) lies in the future? Perhaps because it is in the interest of capitalism to produce such experts, whose job it is to keep projecting beauty on to a point we'll never reach, so as to get the vast majority of people to rationalise the ugliness of the present? If the vast majority see the ugliness of the present, the game is over for capitalism. The most basic thing philosophy teaches is critical thinking - or to question everything - a point apparently lost on you. Enjoy your life as a sheep would. I have little time or patience for someone unwilling to learn - and this is, shamefully for you, a higher education supplement website.
You seem to have misunderstood what I meant by 'predictive power'. Every good theory in science has the requirement that it should give some predictions about its topic. A good theory has many predictions, a mediocre one has few and a bad theory has none. For example: when Mendeleev first put forth his Periodic table of elements he left spaces in the table and predicted that some then-undiscovered elements will occupy those spaces and he even quite accurately predicted their physical characteristics. This is a good theory. An example of bad theory is 'Miasma theory' which failed to explain why diseases were caused because it was found that even when miasma was eliminated diseases like cholera still persisted. That said, you seem to be saying that we have already discovered all the things that we need to know about the future. All I can say about this is that you seem to have read the book by its index and decided you know everything it has got to say. Progress in science does not stop just because some "Intellectual" has decided that all the progress that can be made has been made. Come to think of it, this is not very different from the Victorians who thought that Victorian era represented the pinnacle in everything and no more progress was needed to be done. Yes, Capitalism can seem harsh and evil but it is what we have got and countless people flourish in it. And most manage to make do. It can be inefficient and even stifle discovery and progress. There are countless examples of this. But what is to guarantee that the seemingly perfect and benign alternatives will themselves not morph into similar to what they replace? I am not saying there can never be any alternative, just that it will take time to emerge. I'd rather be honest and realistic about the world around me and be branded as sheep for it, than replace reality with ideology and consider myself to be a righteous wolf.
Honest and "realistic" you are certainly not. The social sciences and humanities - particularly philosophy - are hard work. "Predictive power" as you've defined it is extremely limited and positivistic, which (continental) philosophy rejects for good reason. No one can explain anything to you in a comment box here unless you read. So it all comes down to how willing you are to see things differently - VERY differently. I can only say the world will be appear to have been upside down if you do read, and only then will it seem to you that you see clearly as never before. There's a reason some extraordinarily smart people doing philosophy, and you'd do well not to diss their intelligence. I did earlier recommend a book. Here's one more: David Graeber's Debt: A history of the last 5000 years. Part of it is also available as a talk on youtube, for the truly lazy, although there's nothing like reading the original. And yes, I'd absolutely rather be a righteous wolf who stands for something good and beneficial, for the rights of people and against excessive concentration of power, than a wooly-headed sheep who questions nothing and reads no critical literature and has no interest in understanding how the world has come to be as it is. It is precisely against this kind of limited thinking that Kant spoke of the use of public reason.
I never said nor claimed that we know everything there is to know about the future. Talk about reading the book by its index and its 'technical' meaning!
Here's an interesting passage from the philosopher I mentioned earlier, Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution. Read carefully. Kuhn puts science and scientific knowledge in perspective: "...historians confront growing difficulties in distinguishing the 'scientific' component of past observation and belief from what their predecessors had readily labeled 'error' and 'superstition.' The more carefully they study, say, Aristotelian dynamics, phlogistic chemistry, or caloric thermodynamics, the more certain they feel that those once current views of nature were, as a whole, neither less scientific nor more the product of human idiosyncrasy than those current today. If these out-of-date beliefs are to be called myths, then myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge. If, on the other hand, they are to be called science, then science has included bodies of belief quite incompatible with the ones we hold today. Given these alternatives, the historian must choose the latter. Out-of-date theories are not in principle unscientific because they have been discarded. That choice, however, makes it difficult to see scientific development as a process of accretion." As you can see, he has dismantled the entire basis of science's scientificity - as having ALWAYS been and *therefore* being TODAY as scientific. He thus put paid to the concept of 'scientific' observation and "testing". It's a powerful way of overturning things, with major implications for how all scientific disciplines are done in their everyday setting. This book was published in the 1950s I believe and it is not unfair to characterize it as having been immensely influential in both praxis and pure science theory.
So funny: everybody is cherry picking their own favorite subjects and most hated ones... You made my day :) This shows we need all of these disciplines and probably more nuanced ones than the ones we can think of right now. Only one other comment: Interdisciplinary research should be encouraged in any university environment. That is the only missing piece in the huge university universe of today, specialization is very good but should be regulated through incentives.
I would agree with you generally, which is precisely why I advocate against producing too many "experts" and specializations who work only in silos. The sad thing about the Bologna process in Europe is to disrupt the ability to do a "general" (non specialised) education that would allow them to think from different perspectives. It seems they want to move towards eliminating the idea of different perspectives altogether and produce mostly technocrats who would remain confined to their "expertise" and help consolidate power by encouraging a 'neutrality' and political correctness among them. Anyone living in a democracy will tell you how many have become hollow, they're only technically a democracy. And that's the problem with pure technical and 'vocational' education. There is no cross fertilization of ideas, nor an understanding of how class and social status affect those at a disadvantage.
Spectres and Spectacles, here's what you should do. Next time you get ill, seriously ill, don't take the trouble of visiting a doctor, go see a philosopher instead!
You sound traumatised. And what an unenlightened response from a lethargic consumer. We work in the realm of ideas, my dear, which you and your fellow consumers unwittingly absorb in your everyday life and of which make 'original' oversimplified Ted Talks. This is beyond you, my friend. Lie down before you hurt yourself! PS. The next time a woman close to you complains of gender bias and 'glass ceiling', tell her to "go see a doctor", as you say. Same goes for racial prejudice. And the doctor might confrm your friend has a more sophisticated brain than yours.
I am not sure what the fuss is about above. Nobody is arguing that these disciplines should be shut down altogether, only downscaled. And I think the reasoning for that is perfectly sound. A country which has a declining population has certain needs, and it wouldn't be fair to the students nor to society to invest so much time and money into disciplines which would see a lot of students ending up unemployed. After all, nobody has a use for a hospital which employs 40 brain surgeons but only has 2 nurses on staff.
This subjective lunacy needs to be combatted on all fronts.
Oh no, I never thought this subjective INSANITY would get as far as Japan! Resist it at all costs if you don't you will end up with a generation of unemployable emotional basket case's! It is having a very insidious and corrosive effect on western society but there is a counter offensive to try and bring back common sense. These 'people' deny REALITY and are threatening the foundations of the sciences and enlightenment itself, ignore them at your peril!!