Research Activities
Changing Higher Education in Japan: Ideologies of Reform, Improvement, and Standards
1st Research Meeting of Group 3
■Speaker :Robert Aspinall (Prof. Shiga University), Mayumi Ishikawa (Assoc. Osaka University), Greg Poole (Prof. Tama University), William Bradley (Prof. Ryukoku University)
■Place :B103-104, Chikou-kan, Seta Campus, Ryukoku University
■Date :13:00-16:30, Thursday, 25 June, 2009
■Number :090625
This panel discussed the changes in Japanese higher education (HE) in the current era of globalizing reform from a variety of perspectives. While globalizing change is often conceived of as a process that occurs through pressure exerted from the outside with varied local initiatives and results in response, we consider how ideologies of reform, improvement and standards for HE are both modeled after similar trends and developments outside of Japan, as well as developed in relation to implicit answers to pre-existing questions about multiple and mixed purposes and in the contexts in which many Japanese universities are struggling to secure stable futures.

William Bradley (Afrasian Centre for Peace and Development Studies, Ryukoku University)

1st Speaker: Robert Aspinall (Professor, Shiga University)
“Is MEXT trying to achieve‘dynamism without risk’in the national and public university sector? An examination of the critique provided by the 2009 OECD report on Higher Education in Japan”

Focusing on the reforms of national and other public universities (prefectural and municipal) since 2004, this paper examines the criticism contained in the 2009 OECD report on Higher Education in Japan that, although MEXT claims to be introducing more dynamism into the HE sector, it is actually contributing to an (already present) ethos of risk aversion among the very people (i.e. presidents and professors) who are supposed to be in charge of introducing that dynamism.

There are three sources of this risk aversion: firstly, the external environment of demographic change and economic crisis; secondly, the post-privatisation regulations of MEXT itself; and thirdly, the institutional ethos present in individual universities. This paper will focus on the second and third areas and the interaction between them, and consider the contribution and critique provided by the recent OECD report. In particular it will examine the accusation by the OECD that there is a lack of strategic planning or, in the words of the report, a “paradox of over-regulation and under-planning”.

2nd Speaker: Mayumi Ishikawa (Associate Professor, Osaka University)
“Making global universities in Japan?: Dominant models in higher education and new dimensions of knowledge construction”

This paper analyzes how the emergence of dominant models in HE and the power they embody affect global and local constructions of knowledge, based on extended micro-level participant observation in a Japanese research university aspiring to become a ‘world-class’ institution. The prevalent and oft-referenced university rankings and league tables as well as the use/abuse of citation indices for academic performance evaluation give rise to de-facto global standards and models, against which traditions of national language education and research are challenged. The study aims to critically observe an emerging hegemony and new dimensions of knowledge construction in the globalizing process of HE. It also outlines a quest to stay competitive and relevant on the part of Japanese universities and the government’s recent policy directives to prioritize HE internationalization.

3rd Speaker: Greg Poole (Professor, Tama University)
“‘International education’ in Japanese higher education: The ideal of critical literacy and the reality of cultural practice”

Recently Herve Varenne (2008) wrote in the Anthropology & Education Quarterly that [teachers and researchers] “face the multiple institutions enforcing a cultural arbitrary that we cannot escape, even as we struggle to transform it.” This paper explores this thought vis a vis “international educational programs” in Japanese HE.

While Japanese society is moving towards being more of an immigrant society than it is today, tabunka kyousei shakai, is it now facing both disembedding (de-localizing) and re-embedding (re-localizing) forces. So, what will be the concomitant cultural transformation, if any? What role will these so-called “international educational programs” (given their potential) play in this change?

In this paper I focus more on pedagogical and institutional practices. To do so I will make a link between “international education” and “critical literacy” in order to point out the gap between pedagogical goals (the practice of teaching & learning) and the institutional goals (the practice of school management).

4th Speaker: William Bradley (Professor, Ryukoku University)
“Competing models of improvement and reform: Excellence and the societal observer”

This paper discusses the conflicting ideologies of improvement and reform in the management of Japanese higher education. While each university is encouraged by MEXT to develop its own specialization and brand, the overall goal is the same, namely survival and retention of autonomy within increasing limitations. The sources of pressure to Japanese universities are similar if not aligned exactly, but their strategies for addressing the problems are assumed to best accomplished differentially through managed competition based on ranking systems. The referents for determination of excellence are multiple and shifting; the global marked and competition for students through internationalization, the need for increased third party and ‘neutral’ evaluative mechanisms, transparency and accountability towards Japanese society, commensurate value in credentialization and job securitization for students. This paper highlights some of the conflicts that are obscured in many normative models for reform of Japanese HE.

Discussant: David Blake Willis (Professor, Soai University)