WENR, May/June 2005:Japan and Transnational Higher Education
Japan and Transnational Higher Education
By Fujio Ohmori
As early as this year, the Japanese government is expected to implement new policies to recognize transnational higher education both domestically and internationally. On March 29, 2004, the Ministry of Education published its study group’s report on quality assurance of transnational higher education. The group, consisting of experts and stakeholders in higher education, recommended that the ministry radically change its regulatory framework for transnational provision.
The current framework is said to be based on the “territorial principle.” Foreign institutions’ branch campuses on Japanese soil, including those accredited in their countries of origin, are not recognized as higher education institutions in Japan unless authorized by the minister as universities or colleges under Japanese law. Similarly, Japanese institutions’ offshore programs in other countries are not recognized as part of Japanese higher education, and the ministry’s view has been that it is up to a host country’s authorities whether or not to recognize the programs.
The current regimen may have been a reasonable part of the national education system in the modern world where sovereign nation states control domestic affairs including education. However, current postmodern trends — including globalization and marketization — are pressuring the Japanese system to change itself.
Foreign Branch Campuses
Although no official statistics exist on foreign branch campuses in Japan, there were probably around 40 American branches in the early 1990s. Most of them have shut down, and only a handful have survived. The largest one is Temple University Japan (TUJ) that started to operate in 1982 — earlier than any other branch. In addition, quite a few institutions in China, Australia, and other countries have branch campuses in Japan.
The branch campuses of foreign institution are free to provide educational services without having official recognition of the Japanese authorities as part of the country’s higher education system. To be recognized under the current system, those branch campuses need to reestablish themselves as universities or colleges under Japanese law in accordance with the standards and criteria set for local universities and colleges. None of the branches have pursued that course. Therefore, for example, credits acquired at Temple University Japan are not transferable to Japanese institutions, while those acquired at Temple University’s home campus (TU) are.
Once the policy recommendations in the study group’s report are implemented, the above distinction between Temple University and its branch campus in Japan will be eliminated. Under the new regime, foreign institutions’ branch campuses in Japan that satisfy certain conditions will be recognized in the same way as their programs in their countries of origin. These conditions will not require matching Japanese quality standards but rather proving the programs are recognized as bona fide higher education in their countries of origin. In short, this new policy will recognize higher education services provided in Japan by established foreign institutions.
Apparently the World Trade Organization General Agreement on Trade in Services negotiations have revitalized the issue of American branch campuses, and the U.S. government has been raising this issue not only in the World Trade Organization negotiations but also in other bilateral talks. However, the proposed policy change will affect not only American but also other foreign institutions, including Chinese, Australian and British, institutions, and the consequences can significantly impact higher education in Japan.
Japanese Offshore Programs
On the global transnational higher education market, Japanese institutions have been virtually absent. Although quite a few Japanese private institutions operate overseas, mainly in the United States, most of the overseas programs are for Japanese nationals to study abroad. However, it has been reported that some prestigious institutions (both private and public), including Waseda University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, are now starting to embark on new overseas activities. At this stage, these activities tend to involve nondegree programs and academic collaboration with local institutions. Furthermore, Japanese institutions have received government or nongovernment invitations from some East Asian countries — including Malaysia, Thailand, and China.
Under the current system, offshore programs of Japanese institutions are not recognized as part of Japanese higher education. Host-country authorities may recognize those programs. In that case, the programs are recognized not as Japanese but as “foreign” higher education from the Japanese legal point of view. As a result, Japanese institutions are not able to award their Japanese degrees to graduates of their offshore programs, while foreign degrees may be awarded by these programs if the host-country authorities recognize them. Quality assurance of the programs and degrees is not provided by the Japanese system. In short, Japanese law prohibits Japan’s brand of higher education from being exported. Until recently there has not been much demand for removing this seemingly crazy self-regulation either from Japanese institutions or foreign hosts — although this has changed to some extent, as stated above. The proposed policy on offshore provision is that the Japanese government will recognize offshore programs and degrees and integrate them into the national quality assurance framework.
Prospects in a Shrinking Market
In Japan, the population of 18-year-olds, the traditional undergraduate student age cohort, has been rapidly shrinking and will continue to do so. After reaching a peak of 2.05 million in 1992 that population is now down to 1.41 million in 2004. The participation rate is about 50 percent. It is expected that by 2007 the number of young people taking entrance higher education exams will be roughly equal to that of the potential freshman population as a whole, which means no selectivity for admissions. With the increasing deregulation of the chartering process or of ministerial authorization of new universities and colleges, as a part of neoliberal regulatory reforms, it is now much easier and cheaper than ever before to establish new institutions — while spending less on lands, buildings, and so on. Even two for-profit universities have now been allowed to exist in the “special zones for structural reform,” one of the Koizumi Cabinet’s flagship initiatives.
The policy changes for transnational provision should be judged against this background. Will the consequences of the changes be disastrous for Japanese institutions that already face the hardships of survival in a shrinking, fiercely competitive market. Or will the changes encourage Japanese higher education to adapt to globalization, expand its market transnationally, and stimulate innovations in the sector? The Japanese government seems to believe that the latter will be the case, while it is too early to say what will happen after the implementation of the new policies. There may simply be no choice but to change the system when not only the United States, Britain, Australia and other Anglophone developed countries but also other East Asian countries, including China and Singapore, are aggressively embarking on transnational provision in the Asia-Pacific region, which is surely the most active part of global higher education market. Otherwise the Japanese higher education system may be left behind regionally and globally.
Among the various factors that may affect the consequences, the issue of language and the possibility of partnership with industry will be important ones. How popular will foreign institution programs in English and other foreign languages be, or how significant will the language barrier be for foreign institutions? How difficult will it be for Japanese institutions to offer programs in English or find demand for programs in Japanese overseas? How realistic will it be for Japanese institutions to expect cooperation and assistance from Japanese companies in overseas enterprises? These questions have yet to be answered.
Fujio Ohmori is a professor at the Research Center for Higher Education, Kumamoto University. Address: 2-40-1 Kurokami, Kumamoto-shi, 860-8555 Japan.
E-mail: [email protected].
World Education Services is grateful for permission to reprint this article, which was originally published in the Fall 2004 edition of International Higher Education, a publication of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education.