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Increase in number of Institutions of Higher Education
Types of institutions and programs
Reference to table 10
Reference to table 11
Reference to table 12
Entrance examination system
Quality of undergraduate education
Graduate education and research
Continuing education for adults
International education
Private higher education and national policy
Equality of opportunity
Linkages among the university, government, business, and industry hierarchies
Concluding observations

Increase in number of Institutions of Higher Education
Topping off Japanese education today is a large, diversified system of higher education consisting, in 1985, of 461 universities, 543 junior colleges, 62 technical colleges, and various other postsecondary institutions and programs.

By the start of World War II, Japan already had a higher education system equal in scale to that of the leading European nations. The major functions of its universities were training elite leadership for government, business, and society in general and the conduct of research to serve national needs. Technical and scientific subjects received heavy emphasis.

After World War II, the Occupation authorities instituted a major reform of higher education. Among other things, they granted university status to a number of lesser institutions, thus greatly expanding the postsecondary universe, and promoted inclusion of a strong general education component in university undergraduate education. They also introduced the junior college concept. Many other postsecondary institutions came into being after the Occupation.

Since the war both the number of higher education institutions and their total enrollments have increased dramatically. From 1950 to 1984, the number of students in universities and 4-year colleges increased from 225,000 to 1,843,000, while the number enrolled in junior colleges rose from 15,000 to 382,000.

Types of institutions and programs

Postsecondary institutions are either national public (established, funded, and operated by the national government), local public (prefectural or municipal), or private. Private institutions have been the most responsive to increased popular demand for higher education. They now outnumber public institutions and serve the majority of students. Yet national universities are generally more prestigious and, because of greater resources, usually provide a better quality education at lower cost to students.

Public and private postsecondary institutions are of five major types: universities (a term that in Japan is traditionally applied to all postsecondary academic institutions of 4 years or more, hence corresponding to the combined "college and university" phrase commonly employed in the United States), junior colleges, and three types of technical and vocational institutions described in the next chapter. Table 10 shows the number of institutions in each of the five types, by control category (public or private). Table 11 shows enrollments by type of institution and kind of course.

There are also a few new types of institutions, including two technological universities which mainly serve graduates of the technical colleges who enter in the third year and can complete both bachelor's and master's degrees in curricula "consistent with their previous educational experience." [1]

The universities, led primarily by the national universities, sit at the apex of the hierarchical structure of the postsecondary system. They offer a regular undergraduate degree program, normally 4 years in length. There are 6-year programs in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science. Postgraduate options include 2-year master's degree programs, and 5-year doctoral programs. More than half the universities have graduate programs and two-thirds of these offer both master's and doctoral level work.

The highly ranked institutions provide a passage to good positions in government and large corporations, and their entrance examinations mold most of secondary education and some of what precedes it. The universities usually considered at the top of the prestige structure include Tokyo, Kyoto, Tokyo Institute of Technology (national), and Keio and Waseda (private).

Junior colleges received their major impetus from postwar Occupation policies concerned with fostering democracy through broadening educational opportunity. They offer 2- and sometimes 3-year programs, most of which are designed for women. Most of the institutions are small, with a limited range of subjects. In fact, three-fourths of them have only a single curriculum, which can have as concentrated a focus as music, painting, or English literature. [2] In Japan, junior college education, indeed higher education for women in general, is commonly considered as preparation for eventual marriage and homemaking, rather than as training for long-term professional employment in business and industry. Less than 5 percent of junior college graduates go on to further higher education.


Almost 2.9 million students were enrolled in postsecondary education in 1984, making the Japanese system the fourth largest in the world (after the United States, the Soviet Union, and India). While the educational standards in many parts of the system leave something to be desired, a high proportion of those who enter postsecondary education complete the program they enter. Ikuo Amano reports that almost 75 percent of university students graduate in 4 years and 87 percent graduate eventually. [3]

Of the nearly 2.9 million students in postsecondary education, about 64 percent are in universities, mostly in undergraduate courses, 13 percent in junior colleges, 14 percent in special training colleges, almost 8 percent in miscellaneous schools, and only .6 per cent in the fourth and fifth years of the 5-year courses in technical colleges.

Thirty-seven percent of the total enrollment in Japanese higher education is female. Of the total female enrollment, 40 percent is in universities, 32.3 percent in junior colleges, and 22.5 percent in special training schools. Table 12 shows female enrollment in the different types of postsecondary institutions.

Distribution of enrollment by fields presents some interesting patterns. For example, although Japanese higher education confers only 40 percent as many bachelor's degrees as the U.S., it produces as many engineers, because nearly 20 percent of Japanese university students specialize in engineering compared with only 7 percent in the United States.

As explained below, graduate study in Japan is relatively underdeveloped or underutilized and enrollment patterns reflect this. Enrollment at the graduate level is only 3 percent of the total enrollment in universities and junior colleges. The comparable figure for the United States is approximately 11 percent (of which a substantial portion is foreign students.) The low proportion of students enrolled in graduate programs in Japan shows even in key fields.


As usual, general policy and administration are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Monbusho has the authority to approve the establishment of all new institutions, both private and public; has direct control over the budgets of all national universities, colleges, junior colleges, and any associated research institutes; provides subsidies to private and prefectural institutions; prescribes minimum standards for universities with respect to curricula, number and qualifications of teachers, and size of buildings and grounds; and provides research and foreign travel support to individual scholars. While individual universities can exercise autonomy in many matters, particularly if they are very prestigious, private or both, the Ministry retains primary influence over the development of higher education in Japan.

Entrance examination system

While the present examination system has a pragmatic origin it also reflects a basic characteristic of Japanese culture: to impose strict screening before the initiation of a social relationship (whether friendship, marriage, or lifelong employment), but once the relationship has been established, to invest much trust and energy in its maintenance. University affiliation falls within this pattern.

The examination system arose largely from the need to deal with uncertainties accompanying the rapid expansion of secondary education and the establishment of many new universities. In the old system, reputable schools with rigorous programs (most at upper secondary level, some with a year beyond) were the principal preparatory institutions for the universities. A close ratio was maintained between the number of students in those schools and the number of places in universities. Only in a handful of university faculties where applicants significantly outnumbered places were entrance examinations critical in selecting students. During that period, entrance examinations were more important at the stage of passage from the middle schools into the higher secondary preparatory schools than in gaining university entrance.

With the inauguration of the new system by the Occupation, the traditional transition process from preparatory school to higher education was thrown into disarray. A larger number and more diverse range of preparatory schools were producing graduates intent on seeking admission to a larger and more varied group of universities.

In the hierarchical Japanese society, the status of the new institutions at both levels was, predictably, lower and more uncertain than that of institutions with established reputations. Hence the most prominent universities were flooded with applications. They developed rigorous entrance examinations to maintain quality control of their admissions. The new, lesser universities even when they had fewer applications than places, felt compelled to develop their own entrance examinations in order to maintain the appearance of similarity to leading institutions. Today, in addition to their student selection function, examinations also provide a source of income for various private institutions because of the fees charged to take the examinations.

High stakes competition. Unlike the application management system used at the local level in the high school entrance examination process, the university entrance examinations are rigorous national competitions among many students contending for a limited number of places in the more prestigious institutions. The stakes in the competition are high, given the great lifelong advantage traditionally enjoyed by those who graduate from a prestigious university.

Since professional education generally starts at undergraduate level, students need to choose their fields of study before they apply for admission. Because requirements vary by field or faculty, the examination is usually given by the faculty concerned, rather than by the university in general. Faculties differ in their requirements and standards, and there is little opportunity to transfer from one field or faculty after admission. To change fields or institutions normally requires dropping out completely and starting the demanding entrance process all over again.

Thus, selecting an institution and faculty to apply to is a serious and complex matter that has to be faced at the outset of the examination preparation process. Because of the hiring policies and practices of the more prestigious employers in both public and private sectors, many academically talented students pay more attention to the status of institution and faculty than to the field itself.

Consequences. Many secondary school graduates who fail to gain admission to their preferred institution try again the following year and commonly devote full time to the preparation process. The large number of experienced university entrance examination takers who are trying again--ronin--makes the competition that much more diffcult for first-time contenders, as well as the ronin. According to Monbusho figures, 24 percent of all males seeking university admission in 1983 were 1-year ronin and 8 percent were trying for the second or third time. About two-thirds of the 1983 high school graduates who failed the entrance examination tried again in 1984. The figures rise with institutional prestige. For example, Ikuo Amano reports that "51 percent of those admitted to the entering 1984 class of Tokyo University and 48 percent of those admitted to medicine were ronin." [4]

Preparation. By the mid-1950's a variety of mechanisms emerged to help young people gain a more realistic sense of their chances in the examination competition. This was especially desirable because examinations are so scheduled that no student can sit for the examinations of more than two national universities. To begin with, the secondary school sector has become increasingly differentiated with some schools maintaining an extremely high academic standard, attracting students of outstanding ability, and producing an enviable record of student success in entrance examinations to the top universities. Most secondary schools have developed a fairly accurate sense of how their graduates rank competitively in the annual contest for entry to various institutions. Guidance programs in all schools help students make reliable estimates of their chances of success in entering specific institutions. Students can draw upon a large number of annual publications which give examination questions and answers and study suggestions for the exams of more than 400 universities and faculties.

There are a variety of mock entrance examination tests administered by commercial companies. The results are evaluated against a large and growing data base which provides young people with indications of their performance relative to others aspiring to their preferred institutions. Further, special after school preparatory courses and tutors are widely available for remedial work or cram purposes. As noted earlier, the yobiko specialize in preparing youth for university entrance examinations.

On the institutional side, an important development has been the common examination, the Joint Achievement Test, administered by the Association of National Universities as an initial screening mechanism prior to the examinations given by individual institutions. The exam covers five subject areas: mathematics, Japanese, English, natural science, and the humanities. Factual knowledge and problem-solving skills are emphasized, especially the former. Multiple choice and short answer questions are the primary means employed to cover the massive amount of detail. The examination process takes two days.

Students can gain admittance to some institutions on the basis of their performance on this examination. Other institutions use the results of the common examination to establish the cutoff point to qualify a much smaller number to compete on their own proprietary examinations. The examinations test knowledge of facts, not aptitude or IQ. Such measures of student performance as high school grades, teacher recommendations, or extracurricular activities are not usually considered.

However, an increasing number of universities, especially private ones, are beginning to admit students without examination, on the basis of recommendations from their high schools. In 1984, almost 20 percent of those gaining admission to private universities entered via recommendations rather than examinations. (Many of these were graduates of the admitting institutions' affiliated preparatory schools.) The recommendation route is much more heavily used by junior colleges-in 1983 more than 60 percent of first-year students were admitted via recommendations rather than examinations. [5]

While the negative aspects of the examination system are usually stressed, it should also be noted that entrance examinations make some positive contributions to the overall education system. They buttress academic standards and foster achievement throughout precollegiate education. Because the examination system tests primarily what is known rather than student aptitude, Japanese young people come to know a lot in a variety of fields. Their knowledge is not limited to rote learning; international comparative studies of school achievement indicate that Japanese young people also perform extremely well in solving difficult mathematical and scientific problems requiring advanced reasoning skills.

Preparation for the examination system requires sustained commitment and hard work. Thus, from a relatively young age, Japanese students learn values that will serve them well as they move into the labor force and adult life. While preparation for university entrance examinations entails sacrifices from all concerned, it also helps provide a common sense of purpose for students and parents.

Quality of undergraduate education

The postwar curriculum reform required that 36 credits of the 124 required for graduation in the 4-year curriculum be devoted to general education. Reformers hoped this would induce universities to liberalize their traditional specialized faculties and establish broader organizational units along the lines of the arts and sciences faculties in American universities. But most Japanese universities did not embrace the idea of general education.

Because of the low priority that university authorities have assigned to general education courses, students have also taken them lightly. As a result, the first 2 years have become a relaxed period during which students frequently cut classes, devote much of their time to clubs and other pleasurable activities that they had to forego during the grueling period in upper secondary school when they were preparing for university admission. Once admitted to a university, a student has had high assurance of graduation. Hence, there has been ample opportunity to ease off in college. The difficult part has been entry, not exit. In Edward Fiske's apt summary, "American students, by and large, take examinations to get out of school, Japanese take them to get in." [6]

Some sectors of Japanese higher education do take general education more seriously. Especially in the faculties of engineering, science, agriculture, and medicine, there is a reasonable level of integration or coordination between general and special education. In these fields the general education courses are sometimes spread across the 4 years rather than concentrated in the first 2 years. Thus, students are more likely to study seriously throughout the entire undergraduate period. In addition, student-teacher ratios are lower in these faculties. Graduate students, who are more numerous in these fields, assume important roles in guiding their juniors through the requirements of specialized course work and related laboratory experience.

Ezra Vogel summarizes some of the common problems in Japanese universities:

Universities have an important function in certifying students, but faculty devotion to teaching and to students is limited, student preparations are far less than prior to the entrance examination, analytic rigor in the classroom is lacking, and attendance is poor. University expenditures per student are unreasonably low...The Japanese student in his essays is more likely to follow guidelines than to develop his originality. [7]

Edwin Reischauer's criticism is even sharper: "The squandering of four years at the college level on poor teaching and very little study seems an incredible waste of time for a nation so passionately devoted to efficiency." [8]

Japanese university educators are well aware of such deficiencies in undergraduate education and anticipate changes in the years ahead. The potential for change is found partly in pending reform efforts and partly in demographic realities. After 1992 the supply of college age people will decline sharply and many institutions will have to compete for students.

Graduate education and research

Since the beginning of the modern education system, the leading universities in Japan have been viewed as places for advanced study and research, although on the eve of World War II only four universities had graduate schools, and these lacked prescribed programs of study and fixed periods of residency. Students pursued their own research under a senior professor in a master-disciple relationship. Most aimed at academic careers.

Following the European tradition, faculties were organized in "chairs" consisting of a senior professor and one to three subordinates responsible for research in the chair's field. Each chair as a matter of course received an annual research budget to use as it deemed appropriate. Only where research needs exceeded the annual budget did the chair have to apply for special funds.

Professors and other staff members were expected to provide lectures for undergraduate students. However, their most satisfying educational responsibility was the direction of long research theses which students were required to produce for graduation. The postwar reforms sought to "modernize" this traditional apprentice system of academic training by establishing formal graduate programs with systematic course work leading to master's and doctoral degrees. Master's degrees were first offered in the mid-1950's and doctorates in the early 1960's.

The new universities were especially eager to obtain recognition as places for graduate training, for this conferred status as well as some budgetary advantages. Hence many of the new universities sought and received permission to establish graduate schools. However, students have shown little interest in attending them. In 1984, private institutions granted only 33 percent of the 18,493 master's and 4,090 doctoral degrees awarded, while the national universities granted 63 percent. (Local private universities granted the remainder.) [9]

Graduate enrollments in Japan are thus concentrated in a small number of institutions. While almost 60 percent of the universities have graduate programs and 40 percent offer doctoral level work, half of the master's candidates and two-thirds of the doctoral candidates are concentrated in two dozen institutions--5 percent of all universities. [10]

Only about 65,000 students, 4 percent of total university enrollment, are enrolled in graduate studies in all fields in Japan, compared with over 1.6 million in the United States. The ratio of graduate to undergraduate university students in Japan is about 1 to 26, compared with 1 to 9 in the United States. In general, much graduate study remains primarily "in-service training for university careers." [11]

The major reason for the traditional resistance of Japanese students to graduate study has been the limited prospects for suitable employment upon completion of graduate work. Apart from the academic sector, relatively few jobs are available in the research laboratories of government institutes and large corporations. These positions are primarily for master's level graduates in engineering and basic sciences. Firms that conduct research generally prefer to develop their own researchers in house. The demand is even lower at the doctoral level.

Because of the limited job prospects for students with graduate degrees, few well-established universities have devoted serious effort to further development of graduate programs. In many instances, the old apprentice system was merely masked by introduction of new courses that lacked overall program coherence.

While the scale of graduate education in Japan remains small by U.S. standards, job prospects for graduate students are beginning to improve as national needs, strategies, and policies change. Consequently, the number of students seeking advanced training is increasing. Education planners looking to the 21st century, when Japanese industry expects to be solidly based on the new capital of knowledge, anticipate the demand for better qualified personnel will increase.

The growing interest in improving graduate education will press universities to modernize and expand their research efforts. The strength of Japanese industry to date has been in acquiring fundamental knowledge from other countries, adapting or improving it, and designing, manufacturing, and marketing the resulting products. The strategy has been eminently successful. However, as Japan increasingly competes in fields in which the state-of-the-art is evolving rapidly and in which organizations that do basic research and development have a competitive edge, its strategy is changing. More attention is now being given to advancing the state of knowledge through an increase in basic research.

In 1985, according to Monbusho data, universities employed 40 percent of the nation's researchers and accounted for "about half of the government's research expenditure related to the advancement of science and technology" and 22 percent of the total national research expenditures. Health is the most active field of university research (39 percent of the researchers), followed by engineering and the humanities (14 percent each). [12]

All Japanese universities routinely allocate a portion of their budgets to faculty research. At national universities, almost all research funds are provided by the government, which is more likely to support basic research. At private universities, which educate the majority of students, but where less research is conducted, research funds come from non-government sources, largely student fees and income-producing assets (land, small business, etc.).

Research is conducted not only within universities, but also through associated research institutes. There are also 12 national inter-university research institutes in various fields of science (for example, high energy physics, polar research, space and astronautical science, and genetics). They have the same legal status as universities and are open to visiting researchers. Their facilities are much superior to those found in individual institutions. Staff members have faculty ranks, but no teaching responsibilities. The general criteria for the establishment of inter-university institutes include the need for large scale research facilities and equipment, the systematic collection of data, and/or large scale team research. These institutes also have special responsibilities for international cooperative research programs. [13]

Research cooperation between universities and industry is a relatively recent development. The creation of Tsukuba Science City in 1973 has been the most impressive single effort to improve research linkage between industry and academia, integrate general and specialized education, and innovate in the management of higher education. Tsukuba was planned and built by the government to promote research and education activities in a comprehensive, integrated fashion. The city includes two universities, 46 national research centers, 8 private research centers, and a growing number of technology-dependent firms located in an industrial park. Tsukuba University maintains close linkages to the national and private research centers.

There is no shortage of faculty desire to pursue advanced research, but over the past decade the resources available for the purpose have not increased significantly. Indeed, when adjusted for inflation the amount routinely allocated to a chair for research has declined substantially, and the difference has barely been matched by the increase in separately budgeted grants. In 1983, the amount available to Japanese university professors for basic research in science and engineering fields was approximately $500 million, or about one-tenth the sum available in the U.S.

Despite financial shortages, Japanese university researchers have increased their share of the world's production of significant scientific literature. Whereas in the 1960's, they contributed only 4 percent, today they are contributing 10 percent or more in many fields, and an increasing number of Japanese researchers are being recognized as international leaders in their fields.

The Japanese Council of Science and Technology recently recommended a major increase in funds for fundamental research, pointing out both the practical need for new knowledge and the responsibility Japanese science has to increase its contribution to world science. This recommendation was strongly endorsed by key corporate and political leaders.

The increased attention to graduate education and research is part of a national effort to strengthen Japan's capabilities in science and technology in order to maintain economic growth and the quality of life. While there have been major obstacles in securing or using funds from external sources, recent modification of regulations is leading to more private support for university research via donations, contract research, and cooperative research with industry. [14] In a time of financial constraint, however, it remains to be seen whether increased support for these objectives will come at the expense of other university programs such as philosophy, social science, and the arts.

Continuing education for adults

Traditionally, apart from ronin, Japanese education does not feature a second chance. There are few opportunities to go back to school. There is now growing interest in improving opportunities for further education for adults. Yet, virtually all of the formal higher education institutions admit students based on their performance in entrance examinations. The traditional cycle of Japanese education has young people peaking in their exam-taking capabilities at the conclusion of high school. When adults consider going back to formal schooling, they face the prospect of competing against young people who are in their prime for competitive examinations.

This prospect, plus the strong university tradition of seeing its clientele as young undergraduates, has discouraged most adults, as can be seen from the small percentage of persons above 25 years of age who are in school. This situation differs from the current age profile of students in American higher education, where by 1983, almost half of the student body was 22 years of age or older, and where, by 1985, nearly 38 percent was 25 years of age or older and 13 percent 35 or older. Most continuing education for adults in Japan takes place in private, profit-making institutions.

In recent years, national policymakers in Japan have become increasingly concerned about such emerging major problems as the aging of the population, the anticipated labor shortage, and the need to re-educate middle-aged and older people if the labor force is going to remain flexible and productive. Such factors have given rise to educational alternatives such as the University of the Air which uses flexible standards in accepting applicants. A wide range of courses is beginning to be offered via television and radio. The University opened on an experimental basis in April 1985 with a first-year enrollment of 17,000 students. This innovative institution for working people and others interested in continuing their education adds another dimension to the Japanese higher education system.

International education

Until recently, foreign nationals could not hold a regular position in a national university, and even today the foreigners holding such positions can be counted on the fingers of two hands. Most foreign faculty members are found in private institutions, but their total number is still less than 2 percent of the national professoriate.

Foreign students are rarer still. Whereas foreign students constitute 5 to 10 percent of higher education enrollments in many Western European countries (and about 3 percent in the United States), in Japan they amount to only one-half of 1 percent. Indeed, there are more Japanese students studying in the United States than the total of all foreign students studying in Japan.

In 1984 there were just 10,700 foreign students studying in Japan, 80 percent of them from other Asian countries and 8 percent from North America. In contrast, there were approximately 339,000 foreign students studying in the United States, more than 13,000 of whom were from Japan.

The dominant factor limiting foreign study in Japan is, of course, the language requirement. Virtually all university instruction is in Japanese, and there is little opportunity to learn or use the language outside Japan.

Private higher education and national policy

While some of the oldest universities were established under private auspices, since the late 1870's the central government has viewed the public (primarily national) university sector as the main vehicle for its purposes. Indeed, during the late nineteenth century the government appeared determined to eliminate private higher education before finally changing course and acknowledging its value. Until the early 1970's, the government then maintained a neutral stance, neither supporting nor particularly controlling the private sector. The higher education policy was essentially one of devoting public funds to public institutions to insure quality in that sector while letting private institutions cope with social demand for expansion of opportunity in postsecondary education.

In the absence of government support or direction, the private sector has been especially sensitive to market demand. As illustrated in table 2, the private sector has created most educational opportunities in universities, junior colleges, special training schools, and miscellaneous schools. About 73 percent of university students and 90 percent of those in junior colleges are now enrolled in private institutions. This contrasts with the United States where public institutions enroll about 68 percent of the college and university students and about 94 percent of those in junior colleges.

However, private higher education tends to concentrate on the less costly curriculum areas. For example, private universities emphasize humanities and social science faculties where expenditures are lower rather than the more expensive laboratory sciences.

The gap between the public and private sectors began to widen in the mid-1950's as popular demand for higher education grew rapidly, but public institutions provided only modest increases in enrollment opportunity. Private universities began to increase their enrollments relative to their resource base of staff, buildings, and campus space. Student-teacher ratios in private institutions came to exceed 30 to 1. In certain faculties, the ratio soared above 200 to 1.

Many of the more prestigious private institutions sharply increased their fees and tuition. For example, at one stage some private medical faculties charged entrance fees in excess of $30,000. While some increases in revenue were clearly needed to provide more facilities and staff and to raise salaries, some of these actions were exploitative. Student protest mounted over the imbalance between higher education supply and demand. By 1969 the entire system of higher education was severely disrupted by this issue and others, including controversial national political matters. There was a student protest movement of formidable proportions. At one point some 160 institutions were closed.

In response to the private university crisis, the Japanese government sought to achieve better balance between the public and private sectors. The major vehicle has been the Private School Promotion Foundation, a government-funded program directed by a board of private university officials, retired civil servants, and leading citizens. The Foundation now furnishes approximately 30 percent of the operating expenses of qualified private universities according to a formula which favors lower student-teacher ratios and increased course offerings in critical fields such as science and engineering.

Other vehicles of government policy include special grants to private institutions, aid to students (mostly in the form of loans), and research grants to the faculty of private institutions. The government also has increased the tuition at public universities to reduce the cost differential to students between public and private institutions.

Yet, private universities still operate at a considerable disadvantage in resources. They are sometimes known as "one-third" universities because of the disparities in resources and quality indicators when compared to national universities. There are significant differences in expenditures per student, building and campus areas per student' and student-faculty ratios. [15] Large class enrollments and high student-teacher ratios commonly result in little or no student participation in class, infrequent personal contact with instructors, little written work assigned, and a shortage of books and seats in university libraries. It is also interesting to note that in 1984. only 2.7 percent of baccalaureate graduates from private universities undertook advanced study while 15.9 percent of those from national universities did.

Equality of opportunity

Because of its substantial size, the Japanese higher education system is not without a significant measure of equality of opportunity. Children from families in the lowest 20 percent income bracket have a 1 in 3 chance of attending a university compared with a 9 in 10 chance for those from the top 20 percent income bracket. This situation does not compare unfavorably with the situation in most other major nations.

Yet the class differentials at leading institutions are much greater. Four of every 5 students at the University of Tokyo come from professional or executive homes. Few working class youth are represented. Special treatment for students from poor families or other disadvantaged groups is not a matter of national policy.

Cost of higher education. The cost of higher education is a significant factor. While public education is less expensive and more prestigious than private higher education, access to it is more limited and difficult.

The average cost (tuition, fees, and living expenses) for a year of higher education in 1982 was Y 1,230,500. This amount represented 25 percent of average family income at that time. [16] Parents contributed about 80 percent of that sum. Private colleges, which are more expensive than public ones, cost Y 1,436,400, equal to 30 percent of annual income, of which parents contributed 76 percent. For 1 year at a junior college a family paid an amount equal to 20 percent of its annual income. [17]

Yet public provision for student financial aid is not as extensive in Japan as in some countries (in the United States, for example, more than 50 percent of all students in higher education receive some form of federal assistance), and most of it takes the form of loans rather than grants. In 1986, the Japan Scholarship Foundation provided loans to about 430,000 students. [18] Thus, for most families the cost of providing postsecondary education is a heavy financial burden. Many students work part-time, often as private tutors or juku teachers, particularly for precollegiate students preparing themselves for entrance examinations.

Status of women. Japanese women are almost as likely as men to enter a higher education institution. However, their enrollment pattern differs significantly, reflecting societal expectations and occupational realities. For example, women comprise less than 10 percent of the enrollment at the University of Tokyo. Nationally, there is a strong tendency for them to major in home economics, the arts, or social sciences. Only 3 percent of the engineering students in universities are female, compared to about 14.5 percent in the United States.

Urban-rural differential. The urbanized prefectures are more likely to send students to higher education, but this differential is accounted for by their families' occupational and income distribution, as well as by more extensive secondary school opportunities and the geographic distribution of postsecondary institutions. Indeed, the Tokyo metropolitan area alone accounts for 30 percent of the students and at least 15 percent of the nation's total population, depending upon how the metropolitan area is defined.

All things considered, the Japanese higher education system has made important progress toward equality of opportunity in a relatively brief span of years. However, there is a potentially serious problem in the apparent trend towards monopolization of the most prestigious universities by children from the highest socioeconomic levels. While these young people gain admission on the basis of their outstanding performance in the examinations, some Japanese social critics worry that the related phenomena of elite high schools, family tutors, and the best juku which help make such performance possible are more accessible to affluent families. They foresee the possibility that if such a trend were to continue, it could undermine the legitimacy of the entrance examinations as an objective, meritocratic filter for entry into higher education.

Linkages among the university, government, business, and industry hierarchies

The close linkage of university affiliation and career opportunity has been a characteristic of Japanese higher education since the government established Tokyo Imperial University in 1877. The imperial universities had gained prominence through their virtual monopoly in supplying recruits to the higher civil service, then and still a career second to none in prestige in Japan. As recently as 1982, for example, approximately 60 percent of those who succeeded in the higher civil service examination were graduates either of the University of Tokyo or Kyoto University. [19]

The linkage persists in no small part because employers can know that, given the severe competition for admission, anyone who is accepted into a top university has a high level of scholastic ability, intelligence, perseverance, and capacity for effort, qualities much valued in leadership positions in both public and private sectors. The view that these and other relevant qualities also can be developed and identified in other ways, places, and stages of life is simply not part of the Japanese tradition.

One of the major objectives in creating a large number of 4-year universities after the war was to broaden opportunities for higher education and in the process dilute the dominance of the small number of elite universities. Indeed, because of the heavy expenditures involved in building up the large number of new universities throughout the country, the University of Tokyo's share of the government higher education budget decreased somewhat in the early postwar years.

However, the reforms failed to uproot the university prestige system--the specialities of the top institutions with government and the most attractive employers in the private sector, particularly financial institutions and major industries. In the nongovernment sector, the leading national universities share the limelight with a small number of prominent private universities. While more universities are now producing graduates, the most prestigious large private sector employers continue to turn to their favored universities for their preferred recruits. Many companies restrict their recruiting efforts to a few institutions.

The evidence of concentration is strong, particularly in major firms in mature industries. As summarized in a recent analysis by Japanese business consultant, Akira Esaka:

There are more than twice as many presidents of companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange from Todai [Tokyo University] as from second place Keio University, and twice as many executives from Todai as from second-place Kyoto University...the four 'top' national and private universities account for 27 percent of department and section chiefs in listed companies. [20]

Because of this pronounced preference by major public and private employers for the graduates of a few high status universities, these favored institutions have enjoyed the greatest success in enrolling able young students. In the postwar period the leading universities have seemed even more eminent because of the increase in the number of lesser institutions to which they could be compared. Because of their early and continuing prominence, the leading universities remain comparatively successful in attracting funds to establish new research institutes and graduate departments when they are interested in doing so.

There is some evidence that the picture is beginning to change. While University of Tokyo graduates, for example, populate key sectors of government and business, there are few graduates of the traditional top ranked universities in the new generation of Japan's fastest growing companies, in part because the graduates prefer the firms with established prestige rather than those in the process of moving up. Influence is also increasing for younger graduates of private universities such as Nihon, Chuo, and Meiji, which are in the second tier of status. Akira Esaka writes:

Todai heads the field for middle managers graduated between 1935 and 1944, but it comes in second for those graduated between 1945 and 1954 and third for those graduated after 1954. [21]

Tokyo University's hold on third place is far from secure. In a recent survey of the university backgrounds of employees promoted to middle management positions in 257 leading companies during the past 2 years, a key finding was that "Todai and Kyoto had fallen behind Waseda, Keio, Nihon, Chuo, and Meiji universities." [22] (University size is an important variable, however. Many of the top private universities have much larger enrollments and graduating classes than the prestigious national institutions.)

Concluding observations

Currently, the higher education system in Japan is the target of extensive criticism by various reform groups and the media. Among the most discussed issues are the examination system, the quality of undergraduate education, rigidities in the university-based research system, and the limited opportunity for graduate and continuing adult education.

The current reform interest differs from that in earlier periods in that it has not been precipitated by a major breakdown in the system or by strong demand from the corporate sector for improvement. Rather, the current impetus stems from a growing sense in Japan that higher education is neither responding to new national needs in a changing world nor to the changing concerns of Japanese youth.

The reform movement faces many obstacles. Some fundamental education issues are at stake in a time of growing economic constraint. Deeply rooted traditions, status systems, and vested interests are being challenged in the process. Any reforms that may be implemented are likely to have important implications for secondary and even elementary education, as well.

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U.S. Dept. of Education Study