05/03/2009 – In recent years, Japan has made significant progress in modernising its tertiary education system, in the face of shrinking youth cohorts and the need for research-based innovation in today’s global economy. But reforms of the tertiary system must continue to respond to current social and economic pressures in Japan.
This is the main conclusion of an independent Review of Tertiary Education in Japan led by the OECD. Japan is one of 24 countries which participated in a major OECD review designed to assist countries to understand how the organisation, management and delivery of tertiary education can help them achieve their social and economic goals.
Reforms in 2004 granted Japan’s universities a greater degree of autonomy. The report concludes that these reforms are a major step forward as Japan’s tertiary system strives to develop more world-class universities and become internationally competitive. But it cautions that powerful cultural forces in the academic community could undermine this progress and it is crucial to embed these changes within the universities’ own structures and management.
Key recommendations include:
• The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology should adopt a more strategic approach to planning and leave detailed operational plans to the institutions.
• Tertiary institutions should take better advantage of their new autonomy, for example through new approaches to academic career tracks and internal resource allocation.
• Resource allocation in both national and public universities should continue to shift from inputs to performance.
• Universities should have greater flexibility to set tuition fees.
• Student loans should be payable after graduation, with payments varying according to income.
• Japan should organise a broad consultative process to review the possibility of voluntary consolidation among public sector institutions.
The review team based its findings on extensive background documentation prepared by the Japanese authorities complemented by a ten-day visit to Japan in May 2006. During their visit, the team met with a wide range of educational authorities and relevant agencies and visited several institutions of tertiary education. This allowed the team to obtain a wide cross-section of perspectives from key stakeholders on the strengths, weaknesses and policy priorities regarding tertiary education in contemporary Japanese society.
Members of the review team included Howard Newby (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom); Thomas Weko (formerly with the OECD Directorate for Education and currently Associate Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics, United States Department of Education); David Breneman (Professor of Education at the University of Virginia, United States); Thomas Johanneson (STFI-Packforsk AB, Sweden); and Peter Maassen (Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oslo, Norway).
The OECD drew upon this report on Japan and reports on the other participating countries to prepare an international comparative report on tertiary education, Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society (OECD, 2008). The country reports are available on the OECD website at www.oecd.org/edu/tertiary/review.
For further information, journalists are invited to contact Noriko Mimura (tel.03-5532-0021 at the OECD’s Tokyo Centre or Susan Copeland (tel. (33) 1 45 24 97 34) in the OECD’s Directorate for Education.
The free PDF e-book is available here: OECD Reviews of Tertiary Education: Japan