Arama They Didn't

1:40 pm - 01/19/2013

Universities debate barriers to internationalisation

University of Tokyo

An effort to internationalise universities often conflicts with domestic systems, and this is currently being seen at Japanese universities.

To internationalise the University of Tokyo, a shift of the academic calendar from April to autumn (September or October) was suggested by an internal panel in May 2012. This shift is to align the academic calendar to the world standard.

Although the proposal is still under discussion, major Japanese universities and the Japanese government, as well as industry, have started to discuss issues and obstacles around implementation.

While the suggestion might become a symbol of reform for the internationalisation of Japanese higher education, it has highlighted many conflicts with traditional and domestic systems. Shifting the academic calendar could cause problems for the University of Tokyo and other Japanese universities.

Reasons and concepts

Sophia University

The University of Tokyo’s internal panel suggested that the university should start its academic calendar in September or October within five years, in order to accelerate the internationalisation of higher education.

According to the report, 70% of countries in the world start higher education academic years in either September or October – including Western countries and also China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan – whereas most Japanese universities start in April. Some Japanese universities already admit students in the autumn, but this is not the norm.

It is argued that the alignment of the academic calendar with the world standard will help promote international exchanges of students and scholars and increase research collaboration at the university level.

With the new academic calendar, students could participate in study-abroad programmes for a semester or a year without conflicting with course schedules or delaying graduation. Professors and researchers could face fewer constraints regarding teaching or administrative responsibilities when they conduct research or teach abroad as visiting scholars.

Shifting the academic year also seems to be an effective use of the summer break. The current academic calendar prevents students from fully engaging in other activities during summer – including exchange programmes, volunteer positions and internships, especially for students hoping to travel abroad.

In addition, shifting the academic calendar introduces the potential for a ‘gap term’ (six-month break) between high school graduation and university entrance. The benefit of the gap term for students is the opportunity to engage in activities that broaden their perspectives and stimulate their interest through volunteering, studying abroad and other beneficial uses of their time.

Obstacles and challenges

Keio University

Despite the potential merits of shifting the academic year, several challenges for the actual implementation of the change have been raised. These seem to be caused by the divergence between national and international systems.

For example, a revised university academic year does not match the schedule of other areas of Japanese society. The Japanese traditional academic calendar, from the pre-kindergarten to tertiary levels, starts in April and ends in March.

Moreover, the government and private sector in Japan start their fiscal year in April and hire a majority of new employees once a year, in April. Also, major certification exams – such as public servant, doctor, nurse and lawyer exams – assume that takers will start working in April.

Many Japanese people prefer the current cycle, with no downtime between high school and college graduation before they start working. Furthermore, although not relevant for non-Japanese people, beginning the school year in the spring coincides with the annual cherry blossom season and is culturally significant among the Japanese. Another concern is that shifting the academic calendar at just a few universities will complicate the situation further.

Unlike the University of Tokyo and some other institutions that aim for international competitiveness, most Japanese universities and colleges serve domestic students and, therefore, have no incentive to shift their academic calendar.

Also, among the major universities considering this shift there is some disagreement about the method of implementation, with different universities coming up with different solutions.

If only a few universities shift their academic calendar, it could be confusing and problematic for students, the government, companies and universities. For students who chose to attend universities in Japan that begin in September, their status during the gap term between high school graduation and university entrance would be unclear.

The hiring schedule of university graduates at traditional Japanese companies will need to become more flexible than the current rigid system, which hires employees only in April, to accommodate varying university graduation dates; otherwise, some students might be disadvantaged.

Between government and universities, the difference in the fiscal year and the academic year at some universities might cause problems of budgeting and financial allocation.

Alternatives and other procedures

Waseda University

The University of Tokyo’s report, the president of the university and public opinion seem to agree that higher education internationalisation cannot be achieved solely by shifting the academic year. Rather, shifting the academic calendar should be discussed simultaneously with other types of reform.

Thus, to promote study abroad among Japanese domestic students, it has been suggested that universities could emphasise and improve their internal support systems – such as allowing study-abroad transfer credit, promoting smooth transitions through language preparation and pre- and post-study orientations, and providing scholarship opportunities.

However, to attract international scholars and students to Japan, the enhancement of educational quality and finding ways to overcome language barriers might be more critical than shifting the academic calendar.

While changing the academic calendar might play a symbolic role in propelling overarching university reform, not addressing all the other potential obstacles will not help Japanese universities to build up international competitiveness.

Regardless of whether shifting the academic year is implemented or not, the University of Tokyo and other Japanese universities, as well as Japanese society, seriously need to assess the current situation and strategically plan the future direction of Japanese higher education.

edkofarah 19th-Jan-2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
this is really an interesting post.
It might be a good idea to follow the international education cycle but considering their attachement with spring and etc, it maybe a bit hard though.
rebirthreborn 19th-Jan-2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
I think it's best to leave it as it is. Why change the term to Autumn from Spring, just because they are somewhat being 'pressured' into it? (I may be wrong)

Sakura and Spring is highly significant so let it be.. Japan is unique in many ways :D
xanithofdragons 19th-Jan-2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
The schedule is definitely not the right place to look for internationalization. :/ I'd heard about this before when it was first being discussed, and my opinion hasn't changed since then. If you want more international students the first thing you should be doing is improving your educational programs and getting good educators. People aren't going to care about going to a different than their domestic one if they think the education's going to be better than in their own country.
energenki 19th-Jan-2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
placetohide 19th-Jan-2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
kazunika 20th-Jan-2013 02:32 pm (UTC) my country,the government shift the academic calendar to attract more overseas student.yep they really did it

i remember last year, i have 4 month holiday because of this shifting thing
blancintrigure 21st-Jan-2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
by any chance, r u from malaysia? coz that's exactly what happen.
kazunika 21st-Jan-2013 09:59 pm (UTC)
yes i am! so i guess ur malaysian too? LOL
i was wondering did the overseas student increase after that..
blancintrigure 27th-Jan-2013 02:58 pm (UTC)
neh.. not sure. i grad soon after. glad to find someone from the same country. but i guess there's a lot of malaysian in arama~~ ;-)
janeru_chan1993 19th-Jan-2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
They should leave it the way it is. Personally if I was an international student I would care more about the education then what season they start :/ plus I always start school in the fall(autumn) it would be nice to experience something new.
neurotic_rat 22nd-Jan-2013 04:29 pm (UTC)
I use to attend the usual 'school starts in autumn' schedule back in America, and I like that school starts in the Spring time here in Japan. Not to mention, usually Japan associates Spring with new beginnings, so that would make sense.
energenki 19th-Jan-2013 07:09 pm (UTC)
As an international exchange student in Japan, I do understand some of the troubles the difference in schedules causes: for example, joining classes can be tough, because unless your school offers ryuugakusei-specific classes, you might have trouble getting into classes you actually want because they've generally started months ago; socializing and meeting people can be very hard, because clubs tend to do their recruiting in the spring, when new local students arrive (some won't allow new students in the fall), and new people have generally formed their groups already, and breaking into them is quite difficult; also, matching up schedules between schools so that they don't overlap (when you go home) is a problem. I've also heard friends concerned about job searching, but I don't understand much about that since for whatever reason I haven't even thought about it yet. (Oops.) But in the end, these are all things that can be worked out with just a bit of effort and thought and discussion, and it's not the most important issue as far as Japanese universities are concerned. Education, the quality of teachers and subjects available, etc.—that's the real issue here, that's what these people should focus on...
crimsonbreeze 19th-Jan-2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
If you want to be international, simple: Open more spots for foreign students. Be more flexible with scholarships. Do not worry for the schedule at all, most of us that have wanted / have studied in Japan don't give a damn about the schedule anyways, we just wanna be there.
unlle_os 19th-Jan-2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
atelierlune 19th-Jan-2013 08:11 pm (UTC)
::waves at Sophia:: s'up girl.

In general every sector of Japanese society is going to have to change its thinking about somethings and be more flexible if it wants to bring in fresh blood and fresh ideas from the outside. I don't know if altering the schedule is going to be the key alteration necessary. It could very easily be false to think that only one change will be enough to make the difference. I can only speak to my own experience.
botanbutton 19th-Jan-2013 08:11 pm (UTC)
I always wanted to study in Japan but reading this makes me think otherwise.
I'd hate being in school from April to March, that's like murder.
glimmeringneon 19th-Jan-2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
I love Japanese culture and history, as a whole I find Japan to be a pretty interesting and unique place. But I do agree that Japan needs to start internationalizing itself, its pretty isolated when it comes to foreign affairs.

I am neutral on this scheduling issue, for me there are other ways to internationalize their higher education.
45s 19th-Jan-2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
I think unis think there's no point to offer more incentives to international students bc most companies in japan won't hire them if they choose to stay and make a life in japan. Visas aren't forever and getting a company to sponsor that is hard.

They see foreign students as people passing through for a semester, I guess
liime_arix 19th-Jan-2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
I wonder if the bigger universities / specialized colleges should do parallel courses. Like both April (for Japanese/Korean/etc students) and September (for those from western countries). I know some Japanese universities do that already but it's either at a graduate level, or the Japanese Language Course. Companies could try being more flexible as well around the summer/fall season for those looking to work in Japan.
raatkerani 19th-Jan-2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
Studying in japan right now and heard about the internationalization issues in my university too.

I don't see any problem with schedule for international students. It's true that first semester starts in April, but second semester starts in October. Either way, if you come to the university, it's the start of the semester, and there should be no problem with taking classes (except for those continuing class with numbers behind it). So no, schedule should not be a problem... especially if you are a foreign student who cannot speak Japanese, because most classes are held in Japanese, and you won't understand even if you are enrolled to them.

As for candidate for master/doctoral students, there is a term called "research student", which imho, is better to take, because you'll need to know how the system goes in Japan (still you get surprises after you get in the program). The gap from October to April is just perfect.

I agree more with the ideas of how to overcome language barriers. In the university where I'm studying, there are so many forms for foreign students that are only available in Japanese. If you're already on a certain level, then you might be able to fill it without help, but new-comers always have problem. Then most room signage is written in Japanese, but when you're a foreigner, you are given the English names at times, then good luck finding the room. And there are very little number of staffs who speak decent English, or have enough patience with foreign students who have limited Japanese ability.

I think simple stuffs as providing bilingual documents and instructions is already a big leap. I like the schedule just as it is. And these schools have to ask their foreign students too. They do in my university.

doubt_no_more 20th-Jan-2013 01:42 am (UTC)
Can you explain about the research student system? I'm planning to do doctoral in Japan, but I need to consider many things.

Your sentences "still you get surprises after you get in the program" really get me hooked up.
raatkerani 20th-Jan-2013 03:04 am (UTC)
Basically research student is the time when you prepare for the entrance examination for the university (because some requires interview and tests in Japanese). During this time, you can be at the lab and get to know your lab-mates and discuss with your professor about your research proposal or what you want to do during your study. It's a very good timing to take learning Japanese - at least for daily use and a some of your major's words - during this time, because it will be very useful when you enter the program and have to follow the lab meetings (mostly done in Japanese in most cases).

Research student is non-degree, and basically, you only need a professor's acceptance to be one. But you can ask for certification from the university and your professor's evaluation if you need it.

Not all professors expect a student to have that, since some of my friends went straight in the master/doctoral program.

Good luck~!!
daika91 19th-Jan-2013 11:33 pm (UTC)
it's very interesting for me who will study in a language school in japan, maybe for go in university~
dramaticsurgeon 19th-Jan-2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
A truly fascinating article. How international does Japan really want to be, and how far does the country want to go to accommodate overseas students? True, it doesn't have to change at all if it doesn't want to, but then the universities wouldn't even be discussing this issue.

As others have already stated, the schedule is a more minor issue than, say, quality education and bi-lingual support. Having a liaison department on campus with representatives that speak major world languages would go a long way in making foreign students feel more at ease with paperwork and "getting around". A campus with a superior reputation for uniquely qualified professors will also attract foreign students regardless of the schedule.

But the question remains: in all of their research and internal studies, have they actually held a conference with other overseas institutions, economists, or international communities to discuss viable ideas for turning this desire of educational globalization into reality? I dunno, it just reminds me of a YouTube video I saw where an Aussie living in Japan talked about a city council meeting held by native Japanese on "how to deal with foreigners in our community" yet not a single foreigner was invited to the meeting.
mizumi10 20th-Jan-2013 04:31 am (UTC)
This is a very interesting article! I like the fact that they tackle both the positive and negative points of this proposed issue. I also agree that they don't have to change at all. Just more accommodations for foreign students would probably be enough.
helenmaldon 20th-Jan-2013 04:44 am (UTC)
Really interesting, thanks for posting!
bea_chan22 20th-Jan-2013 08:08 am (UTC)
I don't mind Japan's current academic schedule. I've already experienced 2 yrs of non-stop studying due to summer classes so I guess it'll be manageable. Plus, I've heard from some people that universities in Japan are a bit lax than say studying in senior high school there.

Anyway, maybe for these Japanese universities can be more flexible on their curriculum and at the same time, offer more English classes or materials since learning a subject w/ a language that you're not fluent at is just counter-productive. If they want, they can offer more Japanese culture related classes on the side for these foreign students if they really want to promote their national culture to these students.

Also, I think they can also start tweaking in terms of their curriculum (and maybe their laws as well) in such a way that the mindset should be that these students also desire to work there because I know a lot of foreign students who went there and wanted to stay but they can't due to problems like visas and such.

Lastly, culturally-wise, I think they should be more tolerant w/ foreigners. Honestly, most of them are still a bit unwelcoming towards people coming from other countries and that should be changed if they do want for more int'l students to come. Of course, this will take time but I just hope it won't take them a century or so.

Edited at 2013-01-20 08:11 am (UTC)
stole_away 23rd-Jan-2013 08:21 am (UTC)
good idea to change but oh well
nova_usagi 23rd-Jan-2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
I think the language barrier is a bigger problem than the academic calendar being different. A school like APU has a lot more foreign students, but they also offer classes in English and applying to and getting into that school is also much easier. That doesn`t mean APU is a good school, though.
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