College reform

Mainichi Shimbun, 29 February 2000

Four national universities—Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Tokyo Medical and Dental University—have agreed to establish a consortium in April, 2001. Yamanashi University and Yamanashi Medical University are considering setting up a joint graduate school as well as a possible merger in the future. Meanwhile, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has put forth a plan to integrate Tokyo Metropolitan University and three other metropolitan universities, and to establish new colleges.

These attempts to form consortiums are ways of responding to the new challenges faced by colleges and universities as the era of rapid expansion of higher education draws to a close.

As of May 1 last year, there were 622 universities and colleges (of which 99 were national universities) and 2.7 million students were at these institutions (of whom 620,000 attended national universities).

The number of colleges and universities is up threefold and the number of tertiary students is up fivefold since 1955. Forty-five years ago, only 10 percent of high school graduates continued on to two-year and four-year colleges; today, 49 percent of high school graduates enroll in institutions of higher learning.

Many colleges are going to be weeded out as the declining birthrate shrinks the pool of 18-year-olds. In 10 years, it is expected that all high school graduates who desire a higher education will be able to find a place to study at college. We are entering a new era in which there will be more places than students.

Colleges will have to diversify and adopt strategies to differentiate themselves from their competition. With growing internationalization, institutions of higher learning will have to compete not only domestically, but also with colleges and universities overseas. Enrollments at colleges that fail to make an effort to enhance their appeal will plunge immediately, and colleges that fail to attract students will cease to exist.

One way to increase the appeal of a college is to implement reforms that include tie-ups and cooperative agreements with other colleges. The Kyoto College Consortium, which is a cooperative arrangement between 46 two-year and four-year colleges in Kyoto, has been in existence for five years.

This year, some 6,000 students are expected to cross-register in classes at other consortium colleges. The consortium was initially restricted to private institutions but has now been opened up to national universities with the approval of the Ministry of Education.

While the reputation of a college, and not the availability of majors, tends to determine where students enroll, consortiums will increase the range of class choices. This could also have an impact on entrance examinations and loosen up the rigid systems of college administrations.

The college reform process is likely to continue, so it will be important to lay out a clear vision for the future. It will not be enough to simply provide incentives to students and to trim costs.