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.