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Almost two-thirds of Japanese high school students attend college or specialized training colleges after graduation. The competition to enter prestigious colleges remains intense. But a college education has become much more accessible. In fact, the falling birthrate has forced many private colleges to find creative ways to meet their quotas. Furthermore, many colleges have begun to welcome non-traditional students. Local governments and private lifelong-education centers provide non-credit courses, especially for homemakers and retirees. This chapter will discuss how and what students acquire through higher education and lifelong learning.
In 2003, almost two-thirds (63%) of high school graduates went on to higher education, including colleges (44.6%) and specialized training colleges (18.9%). The number of college students, 2,804,000 (including 2,509,000 undergraduates) is the largest number on record (Monbukagakushō 2004a), despite the fact that the number of 18 year-olds has been decreasing drastically from its peak in 1993 at 2.05 million, to 1.5 million in 2000, and an estimated 1.2 million in 2010 (Amano 1996:106).1 Almost all students who continue on to higher education ultimately obtain degrees.
The academic quality of college students will decline as many money-strapped colleges accept most applicants. In 1995, 64.8 percent of all applicants to four-year colleges were admitted, and five years later that figure had risen to 80.5 percent. An estimated 70 percent of high school graduates will proceed to colleges in 2010 (Kajita 2000:11, 114). By 2019, all of the estimated 707,000 college applicants (62.9% of an estimated 1.2 million population of 18-year-olds) will be accepted. Everyone can attend a college when the number of applicants matches admissions quotas (Okushima et al. 1998:118-119). This will result in lower educational standards for entrants. Therefore, colleges have to provide remedial courses for students who are not prepared for college-level work. In 1997, 42 percent of colleges offered remedial courses in high school subjects (Kuroki 1999:74).
In 2003, 73.5 percent of college students attended private colleges (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Many less selective private colleges have a difficult time drawing sufficient revenue to operate, due to the drastic decrease of applicants caused by the decreasing number of children. Almost one-fourth of four-year private colleges and almost half of private junior colleges ran deficits in 2001-2002, because of the decreasing number of students. Student fees of private colleges can account for almost 60 percent of an institution’s income. The average income per private college decreased by 845 million yen, 7 percent of total income for the previous five years (AS January 3, 2003). The Japanese Federation of Private Colleges advised financially troubled private colleges to merge with other colleges or to shut down (AS June 10, 2001).
In 2004, 29.1 percent of private colleges and 41.0 percent of private junior colleges fell short of their quotas of new students (AS August 4, 2004). Private colleges need to have at least 50 percent of the full quota to receive government subsidies, though exemptions are granted to original or unique private colleges (AS June 28, 2000). Since 2003, the government has limited the duration of exemptions to three years. Since 1970, the government has subsidized private colleges, though these subsidies have been cut from 30 percent of revenues in the early 1980s to 12.2 percent in 2002 (Monbukagakushō 2004b:66). In the 2001-2 school year, private colleges received an average subsidy of 166,000 yen per student (AS September 26, 2003). Neither public nor private colleges generate much income apart from government subsidies and tuition.
In 2001, the average tuition of private colleges amounted to 800,000 yen, 1.6 times more than the tuition of national colleges, 497,000 yen (Chūō Kyōiku 2001). Since 2000, the MOE has expanded the quota for college admissions through recommendations from 30 percent of successful applicants to 50 percent for four-year colleges, and from 50 percent to 100 percent for junior colleges (Nakamura 2000:39). Many colleges also have relaxed their admission standards for non-traditional students. The enrollment of adult and foreign students has been growing rapidly since the 1990s.
In 2004, all national universities and their affiliated institutions, as well as prefectural and municipal universities became independent educational foundations (gyōsei hōjin), in a series of deregulatory reforms. Then, a university president has more authority to administer the university, such as determining tuition, and funds. The government set a standard tuition of national universities for the 2005-6 school year, 535,800 yen, but each national university can set its own tuition (AS December 15, 2004).
In April 2004, 68 law schools with 5,590 students started. Twenty of these institutions were national, two were prefectural or municipal and 46 were private. The three-year law schools are designed and modeled on the U.S. law schools. Two-year courses are also open to those who have already acquired a legal background. The success rate of a bar examination of graduates of the law schools will be expected to be 34 percent. The success rate of the current bar examinations open to the public was around 3 percent in 2003 (AS May 13, 2004; AS October 17, 2004; Murakami 2003).
Furthermore, several private colleges are interested in establishing two-year accounting schools. The government plans to increase the number of certified public accountants from 14,000 to 50,000 by 2018 (AS June 28, 2003). The MOE and the Department of Health, Labor and Welfare have also decided to require pharmacy students to study for six rather than four years.
The government promotes cooperation between research universities and high technology companies’ Research and Development (R&D) departments. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to create three educational facilities for entrepreneurs in the vicinity of the University of Tokyo, the University of Kyoto, and Ritsumeikan University. These measures are intended to raise the number of university-affiliated business ventures from 240 to 1,000 within three years (AS August 21 2002). The MOE endorsed a world-class research plan through the “Center of Excellence (COE) Program for the 21st Century” in 2002, and 133 research plans from 56 colleges were selected in 2003. Furthermore, the MOE started the program to support college education with distinguished programs in 2003 and selected 80 programs to improve college education (Monbukagakushō 2004b:55-58).
The University of Tokyo established a fund-raising company for business ventures that was based upon student and faculty research. As of 2004, 36 Technology License Organizations (TLOs) have been founded to apply technology that academic researchers have developed to businesses. The TLOs identifies worthwhile academic projects, licenses them for business use, and collects users’ fees from business for academic researchers. The TLOs submitted 1,619 patent applications in FY 2002. Furthermore, there are increasing venture businesses starting from colleges from 128 in 2000 to 614 enterprises in 2003 (AS February 8, 2004).
College professors are among the most respected people in Japan, though their salaries are modest. In 1997, the MOE implemented a system of contract appointments for college instructors, in addition to the current tenure system. Since 1999, each college has been required to engage in faculty development. The gender gap between male and female college professors is striking, although the number of female professors has been increasing. As of 2003, only 15.3 percent of professors in four-year colleges are female. In addition, in junior colleges where 88.0 percent of students are female, 46.1 percent of the professors are female (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
The Association of National Universities plans to see the percentage of the ratio of female professors rise from 6.6 percent in 1998 to 20 percent by 2010. The Association uses “positive action,” and requests universities to operate nursery schools. In the United States, 39.6 percent of college professors are female; the number is 13.8 percent in France, 8.5 percent in England, and 5.9 percent in Germany (AS June 6, 2000; Nikkei Shinbun Evening July 2 2001).
In 1987, the College Council, composed of college educators and business leaders, was created to reform college education, as proposed by the National Council on Educational Reform (Rinkyōshin). In its 1991 report, the College Council recommended the introduction of an independent evaluation system, and the expansion of graduate schools. Since 1991, each college has had the right to design its own curriculum without the requirement of liberal-arts general courses. By 1997, about 97 percent of colleges had reformed their curricula in order to attract more students and survive (Kuroki 1999:38).
Like colleges in the United States, many colleges have begun to use syllabi, evaluation sheets, teaching assistants and research assistants, as well as accepting more adult students and transfer students. More than three-fourths of colleges use student evaluations, and 60 percent enforce the “faculty development” by having professors observe each other in the classroom (AS September 19, 2003). The transfer system from junior colleges, five-year colleges of technology, and specialized training colleges to four-year colleges has been promoted. Since 1999, graduates from specialized training colleges can transfer to four-year colleges. For the promotion of lifelong education, more colleges have introduced a special quota for non-traditional students. Since 1990, students have been able to receive credit from courses that they have audited. Night graduate schools and correspondence graduate schools have been open since 1989 and 1998, respectively.
Since 2000, three-year undergraduate courses, and one-year master’s courses were introduced in the name of deregulation. Since lifting the age requirements for college entrants in 1997, students who excel in mathematics and physics can skip a grade, and attend college at the age of 17. In 1999, six 17-year-olds enrolled in college.
College costs, especially for private institutions, are quite high, as are living expenses for out-of-town students. Although there are some scholarships and student loans, most parents pay their children’s college expenses. Living expenses are much cheaper if college students remain at home. In the 2002-3 school year, students who attended private colleges and rented an apartment spent an average of 2.61 million yen (Monbukagakushō 2004d). In the United States, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board for the 2002-03 academic year were estimated at $8,556 at public colleges and $23,503 at private colleges (NCES 2004a).
Many parents work hard to send their children to college. Many mothers say that one of main reasons they returned to work after child rearing is to finance their children’s college education. Tax exemption for college tuitions would help parents send their children to college in an era of recession. Need-based scholarships and student loans are available. In 2000, approximately 437,000 college students were receiving loans from the Japanese Scholarship Society. Students in public colleges received 41,000 to 47,000 yen a month in no-interest loans, while those in private colleges received 50,000 yen to 60,000 yen (AS June 8, 2000).
According to one calculation, the costs of college education (4 million yen) and four years outside of the work force (11 million yen) amount to 15 million yen. The lifetime income difference between high school graduates and college graduates is estimated at 75 million yen. If high school graduates saved 15 million yen at a six percent interest rate, they would make 75 million in their lifetime. Therefore, college education does not make much of a difference in lifetime earnings (Yano 1998:112-113).
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All colleges are academically ranked. Preparatory cram schools for college examinations (yobikō) publish rankings every year, according to entrants’ standard deviations on mock exams. Public universities include selective universities like the University of Tokyo, local national universities, prefectural and municipal universities, and junior colleges.
Three-fourths of four-year colleges are private institutions. The government subsidizes about 10 percent of their administrative budgets. Other budgetary costs are financed by tuitions. Therefore, many private colleges offer affordable education through part-time courses, correspondence courses, and humanities and social science courses taught by part-time instructors. Almost all students in private colleges major in humanities or social science because those majors are the least costly. The drawbacks of the private college system include higher costs and higher student-instructor ratios. This ratio is 24.8:1 in private universities and colleges, and 9.8:1 in national universities (Amano 1996:71-77).
College students are more likely to come from the households with higher incomes and higher occupational status. According to the 1995 Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) survey, more than 70 percent of college graduates in their 30s had fathers in professional and managerial positions (Aramaki 2000:23). In 1990, almost half (47%) of students in national universities came from households whose incomes were in the highest 20 percent (LeTendre et al. 1998:291). Higher education demonstrates the “reproduction” of social stratification.
In 2003, college students majored in social science (39.0%); humanities (including history) (16.3%); engineering (17.8%); education (5.5%); science (3.5%); agriculture (2.8%); medicine and dentistry (2.5%); home economics (2.1%); and pharmacy (1.6%). Female students are 38.8 percent of the college student population (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Most humanities majors are women. Humanities majors without technical skills have a more difficult time obtaining jobs. More than half of education majors are women. Education majors must pass highly competitive prefectural examinations in order to find a teaching position. On the other hand, the number of female students in computer science and electronic engineering has risen, but male students vastly outnumber female students.
The number of transfer students to four-year colleges had increased after the launching of the transfer system, peaked in 2000, and then decreased slightly. The transfer system is similar to the agreements between community colleges and four-year universities in the United States. In 2003, about 10,000 transfer students have come from junior colleges; 2,500 from five-year colleges of technology; and 1,800 from specialized training colleges (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Under the transfer system, students who did not do well in high school or on their college entrance examinations can still enter a competitive college. The transfer system needs to be more widely publicized and promoted.
More students than ever are now enrolled in correspondence courses. In 2003, the number of students in correspondence courses from thirty-five colleges amounted to 235,000 undergraduates and 14,000 graduate students, in addition to 25,000 students enrolled in correspondence courses from ten junior colleges (Monbukagakushō 2004a). The University of the Air, a public correspondence university established in 1983, broadcast its classes to 89,000 students through TV, radio, and other media in the second semester of 2002 (Naikakufu 2003a:115).
Japanese college students do not study much because almost everyone graduates, and because the GPAs do not matter in employment recruitment. It is difficult to enter competitive universities, but once enrolled, the vast majority of students graduate. For example, 78.7 percent of college students who entered four-year colleges in April 1999 graduated on schedule in March 2003. Also, 91.5 percent of entrants of four-year colleges in April 1995 had graduated by March 2003 (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Most companies look at applicants’ alma maters, not their GPAs. Therefore, many students regard their college years as a “break-time” between the “examination hell” of high school and the working world. A 1995 survey found that 84.2 percent of male students and 76.4 percent of female students in junior colleges and specialized training colleges studied one hour or less per day. In addition 84 percent of male college and graduate students and 59.1 percent of female college and graduate students spent one hour or less per day studying (Sōmuchō 1996:60-61). Most college students spend their time holding part-time jobs, participating in sports and cultural clubs, traveling, dating, drinking, and partying.
Because of the combination of the increasing number of college graduates and a sluggish economy, college education no longer guarantees a high-status job. Only the best colleges can provide educational credentials that reward their graduates with good careers. Due to the tight job market, only 55.0 percent of 545,000 college graduates in 2003 obtained full-time jobs. Another 11.4 percent of college graduates entered graduate schools (the largest such group on record), and 1.5 percent (8,000) accepted medical internships. In addition, 4.6 percent obtained a temporary job, and 22.5 percent neither found a job nor went to graduate school. The remaining 5 percent either died or are unaccounted for (Monbukagakushō 2004a). It is a very serious problem that more than 22.5 percent of college graduates, approximately 123,000 graduates, cannot find a job or did not continue onto graduate school, and that another 4.6 percent found only part-time jobs. They are so-called “freeters,” young, single part-time workers or graduate job seekers, mostly living with their parents.
Among college graduates who found jobs, 33.0 percent of men and 32.7 percent of women were employed as professional or technical workers (including 25.7% of men and 8.1% of women employed as technical workers, 2.0% of men and 8.1% of women as health and medical workers, and 2.3% of men and 6.7% of women employed as teachers); 27.4 percent of men and 41.2 percent of women were employed as clerical workers; and 27.8 percent of men and 17.9 percent of women were employed as sales clerks (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
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Graduate schools were traditionally open only to college graduates who sought careers in higher education and research. The College Council recommended in 1988 that graduate programs accept a wider variety of applicants. Many graduate schools have tried to emulate graduate schools in the United States. Collaborate research between universities and businesses has become more widespread. Graduate schools have become more open to working adults and homemakers, and offer night classes. Since 1999, graduate schools accept students without a bachelor’s degree, if they are 22 years old or older. Starting in 1999, one-year master’s courses and long-term master’s courses have been set up to make it easier for working adults complete a degree. Many graduate schools have more teaching assistants and research assistants than ever before. In addition, the system of professional graduate schools has been recognized since April 2003.
When graduate schools with master’s and doctoral programs began in 1950, there were 189 master’s degree students. By 1955, there were more than 10,000 students. All of the national universities and two-thirds of private colleges have graduate programs. The majority of graduate school students attend national universities. In 1998, 60 percent of graduate students in MA programs and 70 percent of them in Ph.D. programs were enrolled at national universities (Amano 2003:220). The number of graduate students continued to rise from 122,360 in 1993 to 231,489 in 2003 (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Nevertheless, graduate students are still much fewer in Japan than in the United States. In 1999, the ratio of graduate students to the overall population was 1.4 per 1000 in Japan while in the United States it was 7.7 graduate students per 1,000 in 1997 (Monbushō 1999b). In the United States, by 1997, 30 percent of those who received a bachelor’s degree in 1992-93 were registered in graduate schools. There are many part-time graduate students in the United States (NCES 2000).
Graduate schools have become very popular because many college graduates opt to attend graduate schools to pursue better jobs with a higher degree, after failing to find jobs because of the decade-long recession. Many highly educated homemakers and retirees are taking graduate classes because they see a graduate degree as a status symbol. Moreover, many private colleges have been aggressively recruiting graduate students in order to remain financially solvent.
Among 76,000 students (29% female students) who entered a master’s program in 2003, 78.5 percent were their early 20s, 10.8 percent were (working) adults, and 7.2 percent were foreign students. Among 159,000 people in the master’s program, 39.6 percent majored in engineering, 14.3 percent in social science, 8.7 percent in science, 8.1 percent in the humanities, 7.3 percent in education, and 5.2 percent in agriculture. Among 67,000 recipients of master’s degrees in March 2003, 14.3 percent pursued a doctoral degree and 64.5 percent entered the work force. Among those who went to work, 59.5 percent became technical workers, 8.8 percent became teachers, and 4.7 percent became science researchers (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
In 2003, 18,000 people (28% female students) entered Ph.D. courses. Among 71,000 Ph.D. students, 27.9 percent majored in medicine and dentistry, 18.5 percent in engineering, 10.4 percent in the humanities, 10.4 percent in social science, 8.7 percent in science, and 6.1 percent in agriculture, and 21.1 percent were (working) adults. Among 15,000 Ph.D. recipients, 54.4 percent of them went to work as teachers (28.8%); health and medical workers (27.5%); science researchers (20.7%); and technical workers (14.1%) (Monbukagakushō 2004a).Table 5.1 Majors of Undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D. Students
(Percentage of female students in 2000)
|M.A. students (%)||Ph.D. students (%)|
|Social Science||39.0% (27.2%)||14.2%||10.4%|
|Medicine and Dentistry||2.5% (33.2%)||0.7%||27.9%|
|Home economics||5.5% (95.1%)||7.3%||2.4%|
Under the transformation of higher education in 1949, the prewar specialized training colleges that did not become four-year universities became junior colleges. In 1950, more than 15,000 students were attending 149 junior colleges. By 1964, the government recognized the junior college system. By 1965, the number of junior colleges had doubled and the number of junior college students was ten times greater than in 1950 (Ban 1998:242).
Junior colleges have taught so-called “women’s subjects” such as home economics, humanities, and education to an overwhelming number of women, 90 percent of the student body. Therefore, junior colleges are frequently called “schools for brides” where young women hope to improve their marriage prospects. In 2003, 525 junior colleges (88.2% of which were private) provided instruction in education (25.6%); home economics (22.5%); humanities (15.1%); social science (13.4%); and public health (9.7%) for 250,000 students (88.0% female) mostly between the ages of 18 to 20 (Monbukagakushō 2004a). The popularity of public health programs is growing, in response to the aging of Japanese society.
Among 119,000 junior college graduates in March 2003, 59.7 percent obtained a full-time job, 11.1 percent transferred to four-year colleges, 8.4 percent found temporary jobs, and 19.4 percent neither obtained a job or returned to school. The employment rate was 59.7 percent in 2003 because of the recession. Many junior college graduates work as Office Ladies (“OL”) in private companies before marrying or bearing children. They obtained a job in fields such as clerical (26.7%), sales (10.5%), and professional and technical (51.2%), including jobs in health care/medical (16.9%) and education (mainly at preschool/kindergarten) (10.5%)(Monbukagakushō 2004a).
The number of junior college students fell from 525,000 in 1992 to 250,062 in 2002 (Monbukagakushō 2002a, Monbukagakushō 2004a). The decrease has caused great concern among private junior colleges that rely upon tuition fees. Junior colleges have lost popularity to four-year colleges and specialized training colleges. Admission into four-year colleges has become more accessible as the number of 18-year-olds decline. Specialized training colleges that teach marketable technical skills provide better employment opportunities than do junior colleges.
In the 1980s, far more female high school students entered junior colleges than four-year colleges. Since 1995, female students have shown a preference for four-year colleges (Chūnichi Shinbun May 15, 1999, evening edition). In 1990, only 18.7 percent of female students applied to a four-year college, while in 1997, 30.1 percent of them did (Okushima 1998:110-111).
Several prestigious junior women’s colleges have been integrated into four-year colleges. In 2001, 54.8 percent of private junior colleges could not meet their admissions quotas. Fifty junior colleges did not even meet half of their quotas (AS July 6, 2001). Since 1991, junior colleges have begun to accept part-time students, recognize units from other institutions, expand the transfer system, and establish an associate’s degree for junior college graduates (Ban 1998:242)
In 1962, five-year colleges of technology (kōtō senmon gakkō) were established to produce technicians. In 2003, 63 five-year colleges of technology, including 55 national ones, had 58,000 students enrolled after middle schools. More than 80 percent of the student population is male (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Entrance into a five-year college of technology has been competitive because many graduates obtain jobs in large companies. Many incoming students are high-achievers who prefer five-year colleges of technology to second best academic high schools. The best students usually attend elite academic high schools rather than five-year colleges of technology.
Among 10,000 graduates in 2003, 39.2 percent (cf., 14.7% in 1992) transferred to four-year colleges. Graduates of five-year colleges of technology also worked in manufacturing (48.5%), service (18.8%), telecommunication (8.6%), construction (8.0%), and public service (4.7%). Nearly all graduates (87.2%) obtained technical positions (Monbukagakushō 2002a, Monbukagakushō 2004a).
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In 1997, the 1987 regulation that set October 1 as an official starting date for offering employment to graduates was repealed because many companies issued unofficial job offers to prospective graduates much earlier than the official starting date of recruitment. Some companies recruit employees all year around. Prospective recruits collect information about job openings from the Internet, information magazines and classified ads, the school’s career placement office, alumni and professors, as well as from family and friends. Then they send in an application and take an exam or interview at the company. After several interviews, they receive an unofficial job offer. They choose one company, and sign an employment contract.
Employment in large corporations is very competitive because these positions promise job security, better pay, and more generous benefits. Educational credentials from prestigious universities help in securing job offers from large corporations.
Corporations with 1,000 employees or more advertised 106,000 new jobs in March 2000 to 218,000 eager college seniors. In contrast, medium and small-sized corporations sought 301,000 new employees, but only 194,000 college seniors were interested in those jobs (Keizai Kikakuchō 1999:61). Employers select applicants primarily based on their educational credentials, namely the rank of the college they graduated from. Therefore, graduates from prestigious colleges are more likely to be matched with prestigious large corporations, while graduates from less selective colleges are more likely to obtain employment in smaller companies. Employers regard educational credentials, along with age, sex, and social origin as the most effective means of measuring and evaluating job applicants. Employers seek potential rather than specific skills because most corporations have in-house training for new hires. According to the 1998 Recruit Co. survey, corporations hire an employee based on personality (81%); future potential (71.6%); enthusiasm (71.1%); aptitude test scores (41.1%); personality test scores (35.9%); language skills (24.9%); academic major (24.5%); and GPA (23.5%) (Keizai Kikakuchō 1999:62-63).
Employers use school connections and alumni networks to recruit recent graduates of prestigious universities. Many large corporations have already established institutional networks with particular schools, and reserve a quota for graduates from “designated” schools. It is well known that many science and engineering majors in prestigious universities obtain jobs through recommendations by the faculty and the departments, which have institutional connections with certain corporations.
The 1981 Survey on Occupational Mobility and History found that Japanese males in large companies were most likely recruited through school connections (Brinton and Kariya 1998:192). From a 1987 case study of male humanities and social science majors, a company recruited their new employees from “designated schools,” through alumni recruiters, and by judging their educational credentials (Takeuchi 1995:121-153).
Educational credentials count for recruitment and entry-level training. However, they do not have much effect on the later stages of people’s careers. An analysis of employment records in a large finance and insurance company shows that college credentials have no significant effect on the probability of reaching lower or middle management, because almost everybody is automatically promoted on the basis of seniority. The standing of the college only begins to have an effect on promotions to upper-level jobs such as the department head (buchō) twenty years after college graduation. However, job performance and productivity, not a 20-year-old diploma, most likely determines the promotion (Ishida, Spilerman and Su 1997:874, 879).
In addition to educational credentials and school networks, nepotism is common. Many applicants use a personal network among family, friends, and/or acquaintances to obtain employment in private companies and even in public organizations. Even the appointment of civil servants and public teachers is a closed system, and the scores of written exams are not part of the public record.
Female college graduates have a much harder time than male college graduates obtaining a full-time job, especially during economic downturns. Most female college students major in humanities and social science, and do not have marketable technical and vocational skills. Teaching jobs used to be the most popular career among female college graduates. However, in 1995, only 7.6 percent of college-educated women obtained teaching positions (Tanaka 1997:136).
Many female students seek employment in private corporations, where they face confront statistical discrimination (Thurow 1975). Company records show that female workers tended to quit their jobs earlier than male workers, mainly because of marriage or childbirth. Because of their family commitments, married women or mothers cannot work overtime or accept transfers as easily as male workers. According to the 1995 SSM survey, only 31.8 percent of college-educated female employees who had worked before marriage, with the exception of teachers, remained in the work force when their youngest child were born (Tanaka 1997:135).
The 1997 amendment to the 1985 Equal Employment Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination against women in recruitment, hiring, assignments, and promotions. Employers who violate the law face legal penalties. The law promotes “positive action” to narrow the gender gap between male and female workers. Even with anti-discrimination laws, equality in recruitment and working conditions of female employees has come very slowly.
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In 1976, specialized training colleges (senshū gakkō) that offer vocational and technical training in skills were upgraded from “miscellaneous schools” (kakushu gakkō) and granted formal recognition. Specialized training colleges have three types: general-program courses open to the public, advanced-program courses for middle-school graduates, and specialized-program courses for high school graduates (called senmon gakkō). Specialized training colleges have to provide at least one year or more of course work, and 800 or more class units, and have 40 or more regular students in order to keep their formal school status (Monbushō 1999b:167). Most specialized training colleges serve high school graduates. Others also offer courses for middle-school graduates, and general courses for the public. In 2003, approximately 786,000 students attended 3,439 specialized training colleges (91% private) (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Specialized training colleges provide practical vocational and technical training for high school graduates and adults. Recently, not only 18-year-olds, but also adults, including college graduates, are attending in specialized training colleges in order to gain skills for career advancement. Specialized training colleges became open to applicants without high school diploma. High school graduates who attend specialized training colleges come from the middle- and low-ranked academic high schools, and vocational high schools. Many have given up on attending a four-year college or failed to enter a four-year college. Some students have chosen to attend specialized training colleges to become fashion designers, artists, hairdressers, cooks, and dieticians. In 2003, new students in specialized courses (338,000) included new high school graduates (71.2%) and college graduates (7.7%). The students take courses in medical studies (26.8%), humanities and liberal arts (21.1%), engineering (16.5%), public health (11.7%), commerce and business (10.3%), education and social welfare (8.5%), home economics (4.8%), and agriculture (0.3%)(Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Despite the tight job market, the employment rate is better for graduates of specialized training colleges than for graduates of junior colleges and lower-ranked four-year colleges. In 1999, the rate of employment was 91.8 percent (Monbushō 1999b:307). In 1997, 18,800 college students attended courses in specialized training colleges, a large increase from the 2,600 college students who attended courses in 1988, probably because technical skills and certificates from specialized training colleges were more marketable (Agata 2000:127).
Since the 1991 reform, units earned in specialized training colleges can be transferred to colleges. Since 1995, the title of “technical associate” (senmonshi) have been granted to graduates of specialized training colleges. Beginning in April 1999, graduates of these institutions can transfer to four-year colleges. In 2003, 1,800 transfer students were admitted to four-year colleges (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
The promotion of the transfer system from junior colleges and specialized training colleges into four-year colleges gives late bloomers a chance to attend four-year colleges and helps ease fears of “examination hell.” If selective four-year colleges have a quota for transferred students from junior colleges and specialized training colleges, similar to the transfer system from community colleges to four-year colleges in the United States, many students can attend junior colleges or specialized training colleges, study hard and earn good grades, and then transfer to four-year colleges.
In the United States, the transfer system provides abundant opportunities for community college students to transfer into prestigious universities. In 1990, 47.1 percent of community college students completed 12 units or more within four years, which is the requirement for transfer into a four-year university, and 21.8 percent transferred to four-year colleges. Among those who received a bachelor’s degree in 1994, 15.5 percent started in community college (Phillippe 2000). In the fall of 2000, more than 30 percent of high school graduates in California attended community colleges, and 8 percent were enrolled in the University of California system. According to state regulations, the University of California must accept the top one-eighth of graduating high school seniors, California State University takes the rest of the top one-third, and community colleges take the remainder (Los Angeles Times June 16, 2000).
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Lifelong education (shōgai kyōiku) includes education at school, at home, and in social settings.2 Before the introduction of lifelong education in the 1990s, lifelong learning meant social education (shakai kyōiku) where local governments provided community-based enrichment classes for residents. Social education (shakai kyōiku), sometimes called adult education (seijin kyōiku) or continuing education (keizoku kyōiku), differs from formal school education and covers all kinds of learning activities from English conversation and computer classes to singing and aerobics classes. Now lifelong education (shōgai kyōiku) usually refers to all continuing education for adults, including social education in community centers and private cultural centers, and recurrent education in formal schools.
Under the 1947 Social Education Law, the Japanese government has promoted community-based social education in local halls and centers. The 1951 revision of the law created positions for social education specialists in local administrations. In the 1950s and 1960s, local residents constructed community centers all over Japan. The 1971 report of the Central Council of Education emphasized the importance of lifelong education. Social education for all residents, including the elderly and disabled, has also been promoted at the community level (Nihon Shakai 1988:396-406). Internationally, UNESCO has promoted lifelong/continuing education worldwide since 1965. Since the 1970s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has promoted recurrent education for vocational training.
In 1988, in order to implement the recommendations of the National Council on Educational Reform (Rinkyōshin), the MOE established the Lifelong Learning Bureau. In 1990, the Lifelong Learning Promotion Law was enacted, and the Lifelong Learning Council was established as an advisory body to the MOE. The government endorses social education programs, and provides scholarships for adult participants who are interested in vocational training.
More adults have discovered the value of lifelong education and the importance of improving their vocational skills and keeping up with high technology, information, and internationalization. Furthermore, more adults, especially the elderly, have time and wherewithal to enjoy lifelong education and recreation.
In Japan, most programs for social education are for personal enrichment, and not career development. According to a 1992 survey, social education consists of health and sports (23.7%), music and arts (23.2%), vocational knowledge and skills (9.9%), home economics (8.5%), and literature and history (6.3%) (Monbushō 1996:11). Local governments and private educational organizations provide cultural education and recreation for personal enrichment and health education. On the other hand, colleges, specialized training colleges, and public human resources development facilities offer career development courses for adults who want to advance in their careers. Correspondence courses from colleges also provide a variety of courses from cultural education to vocational development.
According to a 1999 national survey, the main organizers of classes and lectures for social education are civic centers, prefectural and local public centers, municipal boards of education, lifelong-education centers, social-education corporations, youth centers, and women’s centers. The majority of classes and lectures provided by the boards of education, civic centers, and lifelong-education centers relate to arts and culture as well as sports and recreation. The most common classes and lectures provided by the prefectural and local governments are on “home education and home life” (38.9%). Only a small percentage of classes and lectures are related to vocational and technical training courses: only 2.4 percent of classes and lectures by the boards of education, 1.8 percent by civic centers, 2.9 percent by the cultural centers, and 4.5 percent by the prefectural and local public centers (Monbushō 2000c). Lifelong learning participants spent an average of 1,021,000 yen per year for graduate schools, 959,000 yen for colleges, 865,000 yen for specialized training colleges, 271,000 yen for correspondence courses from colleges, 248,000 yen for lifelong-education centers, 156,000 yen for private correspondence courses, 145,000 yen for the University of the Air, which is a public correspondence university, and 80,000 yen for community center courses, according to a 1996 survey (Keizai Kikakuchō 1999:70).
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The local government makes community centers, sports facilities, and schools available for residents to use for classes and sports. The local government offers public lectures and classes to all residents for very low or no fees. Most classes take place during the day. Community organizations such as women’s associations and senior citizen’s associations also offer cultural education classes and lectures in community centers. In response to residents’ demands, the local government now sponsors basic vocational training and certification courses, such as introductory courses in computer science.
Participants in local and community classes are generally well-educated homemakers and retirees who have time to take classes during the day. Urban areas have many more facilities for lifelong education than rural areas. Local governments need to provide more evening and weekend classes for working adults, and build more branches in rural areas.
Local governments need to provide outreach programs for lifelong education to socially and educationally disadvantaged people. Low-income residents with little education need lifelong education for upward social or professional mobility. However, those who need this practical training most are also the ones that are least likely to take advantage of it (Miyasaka 1991:53). Moreover, the local government needs to inform disabled people of the benefits of lifelong education. Some local governments offer classes for disabled youths, where they learn social skills, vocational skills, and have an opportunity to communicate with non-disabled people (Nihon Shakai 1988:408-409).
As lifelong education flourishes, more and more private lifelong-education centers (so-called “Cultural Centers”) and private educational/health organizations provide classes and seminars for recreation and cultural education. In 1995, 1,559,000 students participated in 723 “Cultural Centers” (Monbushō 1999b:263). The contents of the courses are similar to those of community courses provided by local governments at community centers. However, these courses are much more expensive. In order to compete with community classes, private lifelong education centers offer more evening classes for working adults. Many homemakers and retirees take in daytime classes, and many young working people enrolled in evening classes. But middle-aged married people who are busy working and raising children have a hard time participating in these classes.
In response to the 1990 Lifelong Learning Promotion Law, the Committee for the Promotion for Lifelong Education, consisting of community leaders and teachers was formed under the chairmanship of the mayor of Marugame City (population 80,000) in 1993.3 The Committee conducted a survey, and proposed the Action Plan for Lifelong Education in Marugame. According to the 1992 survey of 20- to 74-year-old Marugame residents, almost one-third (31.8%) of residents had participated in classes, public lectures or activity groups for social education in the previous two years. These classes were related to hobbies and arts (43.9%), sports (20.9%), skills and technology (18.2%) and home economics (16.2%). Forty-two percent of participants attended classes, lectures and/or conferences sponsored by the local or prefectural government, 20 percent attended classes sponsored by private institutions, another 20 percent attended club activities, and 20 percent studied through an individual tutor. Those who did not attend said they were too busy. The respondents stated that they would like to take sports classes (37.4%), health management courses (35.5%), courses in drawing, calligraphy, crafting, handcrafts, and photography (24.4%), in cooking, needlework, and making kimonos (23.7%), and in gardening, including bonsai (20.5%). They learned about social education programs through local or prefectural bulletins, newspapers, posters, and flyers (Marugame-shi 1993).
Since the late 1960s, the Marugame Central Community Center in downtown Marugame has operated community-based classes for social education. Course offerings include calligraphy, flower arrangement, handcrafting, Chinese poetry, cooking, sign language, caregiver training, Braille, dancing, exercise, computer training and English conversation. Children may take calligraphy, English conversation, and crafting classes. These classes meet for two hours a week. Most classes cost 200 to 400 yen, with computer classes costing about 2,500 yen for four sessions.
Most courses meet during the day, but some courses are offered in the evenings and on Saturdays. In the spring semester of 1998, 341 residents signed up for classes. The majority of participants are homemakers and people in their 60s and older. The lecturers are experts in arts and music and, like volunteers, teach for only minimal compensation. After completing courses, some people join dance clubs, crafting clubs, English conversation clubs, and haiku clubs. In 1998, fifty-six voluntary clubs were registered in the Central Community Center, and met in community centers and in members’ homes. These classes are open to anyone who lives or works in Marugame.
Classes for lifelong learning have also been provided in branch community centers in eleven community districts in Marugame. These districts correspond to the elementary school districts. Each district has a community center where neighborhood associations, women’s associations and the associations for senior citizens meet. The centers organize classes for social education for senior citizens and women. For example, the associations for senior citizens organize classes and activities such as cooking, health care, and playing with elementary school students. It is more convenient for residents, especially the elderly, to take classes in local district community centers rather than in the downtown Central Community Center. I observed one class for the elderly in the nearby Jōsei community center in March 1998. We saw a movie about Marugame castle while having tea. The class was very much like a social meeting.
The Central Community Center of Marugame also operates a municipal “college” for seniors, called the “Hōrai College,” to encourage their participation in lifelong learning and to build solidarity and friendships. Residents who are 60 years of age or older are eligible to enroll. The Marugame Central Community Center holds classes a few hours each day during the week. The students attend required lectures nine times a year and as many elective classes as they want. Electives include local history, folk songs, drawing, flower arrangement, calligraphy, planting, tea ceremony, handcrafts, haiku, health exercise, needle work, and origami. Elective classes meet once a week and cost 1,500 yen for nine months.
I observed a class on local history in March of 1998. The class of 40 to 45 students toured historical sites in Marugame. One 75-year-old woman told me that she had taken this class for seven years, and that most of her classmates had been taking this class for a long time. The Hōrai College gives the elderly not only an opportunity to learn but also to make friends. They start taking these classes in their early 60s and many re-enroll each year.
In addition to public classes, there is one major lifelong-education center in Marugame, which has been operated since 1991 by the nationwide Social Insurance Health Project Foundation. The Center teaches about preventive health care, and provides medical checkups and free professional health consultations. The healthy lifestyle courses include swimming, yoga, and aerobics. The Center also provides classes on calligraphy, woodblock printing, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, choir, folk songs, and English conversation. In 1997, 2,748 people attended these classes. Most of the students are in their 40s and 50s who take classes to learn and to socialize. The classes on flower arrangement and care for the elderly offer certification upon completion. In 1998, the Center opened a playground for small children and their mothers.
The Cultural Center sponsored by the Shikoku Newspaper Company also offers classes for lifelong education. These classes meet for two hours a week, and cost about 2,000 to 4,000 yen per month.
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As the government has promoted recurrent education, the number of non-traditional students has been increasing. Many adult workers feel it necessary for their career advancement to keep up with the rapid changes in high technology. Also, the recession has sent many unemployed people back to school to obtain technical skills and certificates. Furthermore, the increasing number of retirees that have the time and money to attend colleges for their pleasure adds to the population of non-traditional students. Many colleges have been aggressively recruiting these non-traditional students for their own survival because the drastically decreasing numbers of young people in Japan has caused many private colleges to fall into debt or be on the verge of bankruptcy.
Since the 1990s, many colleges have provided more night courses, correspondence courses, public lecture courses, part-time courses, and an audit system for non-traditional students. In 2003, 143 colleges provided night courses for 110,000 students, and 21 colleges had night graduate schools. In 2003, 235,000 students, including 14,000 graduate students, enrolled in correspondence courses at thirty-five colleges. One-third (32.6%) of 191,000 undergraduates majored in social science, and 15.8 percent in education. Two-thirds (65.8%) of 25,000 students in correspondence courses at junior colleges majored in education and 26.0 percent in social science (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Since April 1985, the University of the Air, a public correspondence university, began to take students through open admission, and since 1998 the classes have been broadcasted nationwide via satellite. Starting in April 2002, the university provides the courses for master’s degrees. The 89,000 number student body (38% part-time students) in the second semester of 2002 consisted of 21.3 percent in their 20s, 27.7 percent in their 30s, and 19.8 percent in their 40s. The students included company employees, homemakers, the unemployed, civil servants, the self-employed, teachers, and farmers (Naikakufu 2003a:115).
In 2003, 12.4 percent of students studying for their master’s degree (20,000) and 21.1 percent of Ph.D. students (15,000) were (working) adults who returned to school (Monbukagakushō 2004a). A night graduate school system was established in 1990, and 21 night graduate schools operate in metropolitan areas. In addition, graduate schools started to offer correspondence courses in 1998. In 2003, 14,000 graduate students studied education, humanities and other subjects from 15 graduate schools (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Adult students are more likely to come from more privileged backgrounds. Career development through job training in corporations is usually open to male workers. Only large established companies send their employees to graduate schools for off-the-job training. This creates insufficient opportunities for the career development of women, and for workers in medium and small-sized companies (Yano 1990:149-150). According to a 1994 survey, the respondents hoped for expanded subsidies and tax deductions for recurrent education (39.9%), classes on Saturdays and Sundays (30.4%), longer part-time courses (16.7%), night classes (16.4%) and satellite classes (10.9%) to make it easier for working adults to participate (Monbushō 1996:110).
Since December 1998, the government has subsidized workers who take employment-related classes. More than 400,000 workers have used the system. The budget for 2001 was 35 billion yen. Since December 1998, the system of “Tuition Scholarships for Middle-aged Workers” has covered half of tuition expenses (up to 100,000 yen) for people 40 years of age or older. Since April 2000, the government has subsidized 80 percent of tuition for workers who return to school or take correspondence courses. It raised the maximum scholarship to 300,000 yen, not only for classes that are useful for re-employment, but also for classes in cultural enrichment. It also stated that “introductory and basic level lectures are not eligible, but elementary English conversation is eligible.” Workers who have contributed to the Employment Insurance Pension for five years or more are eligible for these scholarships. Even if they lose their jobs, but have begun the courses within one year of losing their jobs, they can still receive subsidies. Afterwards, they must look for employment at the Public Employment Placement Center (“Hello Work”) within a month after completion. Those who just started working, part-time workers, and contract workers are ineligible. Critics points out that the effectiveness of these classes is unproven (AS April 16, 2000; AS June 23, 2001).
In the United States, part-time students represented 42.5 percent of 14,300,000 postsecondary enrollments in 1996 (NCES 2000). Community colleges play an important role in recurrent education. Community colleges provide instruction in general education and vocational training through an open admission system, affordable tuition, and a transfer system to four-year colleges. They also offer classes on evenings and weekends. In 1996-97, 9.3 million students took classes for credit, and about 5 million people took non-credit classes. In 1997, 46 percent of students were 25 years old or older, and 63.3 percent were part-time students (Phillippe 2000).
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For vocational training, specialized training colleges under the jurisdiction of the MOE, as well as human resources development facilities and polytechnic colleges under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, have gained popularity with adult students. Many job seekers have returned to these schools to obtain new technical and vocational credential certificates. Among new students in the professional course in specialized training colleges in 2003, 7.7 percent (26,000) were returnee students who have a degree from a college or a five-year college of technology (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare supervises the newly established polytechnic junior colleges and four-year colleges, which provide two-year specialized courses and/or two-year practical training courses for both adults and recent high school graduates. Many polytechnic colleges have a small campus with several hundred students. They teach people who are studying to become mid-level technicians in civil, mechanical, electrical, and systems engineering. In addition, they offer vocational training seminars for working adults and the general public. In 2002, 2,280 students studied in polytechnic junior colleges, and 35,040 students were enrolled in polytechnic colleges (Naikakufu 2003a:129). The graduates of polytechnic colleges have a very high rate of employment, thanks to the high demand for technical workers.
The Employment and Human Resources Development Organization of Japan under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare operates 60 Centers for the Promotion of the Development of Vocational Skills, which provide vocational training seminars and courses for adults who are unemployed, looking for another career, or learning new technical skills for career advancement. The Service Center for the Development of Vocational Skills in each prefecture provides free consultation for the development of vocational skills. The Lifelong Human Resources Development Center (The Ability Garden) was established in 1997 for the development of vocational skills for white-collar workers. The Ability Garden conducts research on vocational development, provides satellite courses for vocational development, and operates an online network for information and communication.
Public human resources development facilities run by the prefectural governments and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare provide one- to two-year courses for middle school graduates, and three-month to two-year courses for high school graduates and adults. Kagawa prefecture runs two prefectural vocational schools in Takamatsu and Marugame. They offer vocational training, based on the Law for the Promotion of the Development of Vocational Abilities and Skills. They have one-year courses for middle school graduates, one-year or two-year courses for high school graduates, and three-, six-, and twelve-month courses for adults who are looking for a career or are planning to change careers.
As a more convenient and inexpensive way to learn vocational skills, evening high schools and correspondence high schools are also open to adults who want to learn liberal arts and vocational skills. Some evening high schools also provide short-term public lecture courses for people who want to learn computer skills and other vocational skills.
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Higher education is now universal education. In April 2003, almost half of all new high school graduates went to colleges, and another 19 percent continued on to specialized training colleges. Almost half of all colleges provide remedial courses in high school subjects. Following the 1991 recommendation of the College Council, many colleges began to use syllabi, evaluation sheets, and transfer systems. They also expanded graduate programs, and accepted more non-traditional students, as did colleges in the United States.
Due to the drastically decreasing number of 18-year-olds, many private colleges have been struggling to remain solvent. Many colleges relaxed their admissions criteria for part-time and adult students in order to increase the number of fee-paying students. More than half of private junior colleges fail to meet their quotas because of their decreasing popularity among female students, who comprise 90 percent of their student body. The expansion of the transfer system from junior colleges to four-year colleges, like community colleges in the United States, may help junior colleges to attract more late bloomers who plan to transfer to a good four-year college.
As a result of the economic downturn, slightly more than half of college graduates obtained full-time jobs in 2003, down from 81 percent in 1991. More than one-fifth of graduates neither found a job nor returned to school, and 4.6 percent obtained only temporary jobs. Employment in large corporations is very competitive. Graduates from prestigious universities may use their school connections and alumni networks to obtain job offers. Many applicants use a personal network among their family, friends, and acquaintances to open doors for them in private companies and public organizations.
Since the 1990s, more and more colleges have started to offer more night courses, correspondence courses, public lecture courses, part-time courses, and audit systems for non-traditional students. They are responding to the greater demand for recurrent education as well as to economic necessity. However, non-traditional students comprise only a very small percentage of the college student population. A few homemakers and retirees return to school to pursue a higher degree, and only a few workers from large corporations and the government are allowed the time to take graduate courses. Newly established night graduate schools provide flexible schedules for working people. Many adults who are looking for a job or for career advancement attend specialized training colleges and public vocational schools out of economic or professional necessity.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, local governments have provided residents with inexpensive classes in community centers for recreation, sports, and cultural education. Participants take enrichment classes during the day. As lifelong education grows in popularity and the number of the elderly increases, many private lifelong-education centers, called “cultural centers,” and health care centers offer day, night, and weekend classes in recreation, sports, cultural education, and basic vocational skills. In addition to homemakers and retirees, people who work during the daytime can attend evening and weekend classes. The local government needs to provide more outreach programs for low-income and disadvantaged families who need the most lifelong education but are least likely to take advantage of it.
1. Works in English on college education in Japan and its prospects are summarized in Kitamura (1991), Teichler (1998), Dore and Sako (1998), and McVeigh (2002). The role of the institutional network in the recruitment process of college graduates to work is discussed in Brinton and Kariya (1998), the ethnography of junior college female students is presented in McVeigh (1997), and students’ views of college education as shown in questionnaires are discussed in Lee-Cunin (2004). A comparative study of the role of college credentials in the recruitment and promotion of workers in Japan and the United States is analyzed by Ishida, Spilerman and Su (1997). In the Japanese literature, the restructuring of colleges has been much discussed in recent years (e.g., Okushima et al. 1998; Saeki et al. 1998; Amano 1999; Nakamura 2000).
2. Lifelong education (shōgai kyōiku) has been much discussed in recent years, as the government launched a large-scale program of lifelong education in the 1990s. In Japanese, the history of social education (shakai kyōiku) up to the 1980s is reviewed in Nihon Shakai (1988), and lifelong education in higher education is discussed along with the restructuring of college education in Amano (1996), Fujitsuka (1994), and Okushima et al. (1998).
3. This case study is based on my March 1998 classroom observation and interviews with the teachers and administrators in Marugame city hall, a municipal center, a community center, and a lifelong education center.
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