Humanities, social science faculties in Japan to close

From the Times Higher Education:

Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

The universities of Tokyo and Kyoto have refused to comply with the June 8 notice from the education minister to “either abolish their undergraduate departments and graduate schools devoted to the humanities and social sciences or shift their curricula to fields with greater utilitarian values.” Although the notice was “non-binding,” it was the kind of missive that faculty in public institutions around the world have likely experienced — the kind that indicates the threat to reduce funding:

On June 8, the education ministry issued a “nonbinding” notice, instructing 90 state-funded universities and research institutes to submit a rough draft of their streamlining plans for the six-year reformation period for national universities starting in April 2016 by the end of the month. The ministry will monitor the progress made on the plans each year and allocate the subsidies accordingly.

The state subsidies are critical to universities. According to the ministry, the government allocated ¥1.09 trillion in subsidies to 90 universities and research facilities for fiscal 2015, accounting for 44.4 percent of their combined revenue.

The University of Tokyo received the biggest amount, ¥80.3 billion, followed by Kyoto University with ¥53.0 billion.

Reported motivations for the notice include a shortage of workers in particular sectors, and according to the THE, “a low birth rate and falling numbers of students, which has led to many institutions running at less than 50 per cent of capacity.”

5 thoughts on “Humanities, social science faculties in Japan to close

  1. It seems that the article on THE doesn’t understand the order from the minister of education correctly. The faculties to be closed are the teacher-training faculties which don’t require their students to get teachers’ certificates as one of the conditions for graduation.

  2. jennysaul

    I understand that because of the confusing (or bureaucratic) writing style of the documents concerned, some interpreted the order as one simply to close humanities & social science faculties. That interpretation seems to be wrong.
    The original order actually mentions two kinds:

    (1) As for education faculties, some of the departments thereof are to be closed. In Japan, education faculties generally have teacher-training departments. The students of those departments study the subjects to get teachers’ certificates to become school teachers after graduation. However, some of these departments don’t require their students to get teachers’ certificates issued by the government as one of the conditions to graduate the universities. Such departments are the ones ordered to be closed. Because teacher-training departments were something like vocational schools (not parts of the universities) in the past, graduating such departments without certifications may be regarded inadequate. The students/scholars who belong to the would-be-closed departments will be requested to move to different departments.

    (2) As for other humanities & social science faculties, they are requested to change themselves to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”. They are not ordered to be closed, but requested to improve their qualities. The government wants all national universities to be more appealing to students/scholars from abroad, submit papers in English, and be ranked better in the world. (Japanese scholars in humanities & social science rarely write papers in English.) Moreover, because of the declining birth rate, the faculties might have been asked to change their systems for current numbers of the students (far smaller than 30 years ago).

    As far as I understand, these are the actual requests from the ministry. I don’t know how these will affect the faculties financially (as I’m just a student), but can suppose some of faculties in humanities & social science will be smaller than now. That may be the reasons why some scholars/universities in Japan are unhappy with the requests. However, in my opinion, that doesn’t necessary mean that the ministry of education ordered humanities & social science faculties to be closed. Some famous Japanese newspapers misread (or did not read) the documents concerned, and THE might have just interpreted their articles.

    I hope my explanation makes sense. I have read some online news articles saying the same/similar with my understanding, so it may be possible to assert that THE’s understanding is wrong in this case. Thank you for reading.

  3. But 2, the president of Shiga and the professor at U of Tokyo, quoted in the second Japan Times link and the first, respectively (see above, Kobayashi quoted in the link under “notice” and Takamitsu Sawa authoring the second link in the post under “either abolish”), seem to have the impression that the non-binding order wasn’t limited to teaching colleges, rather affects “national universities,” and is linked to future funding. Shusuke Mari writes, “Kobayashi said national universities, especially the smaller ones, will have no option but to acquiesce to the ministry’s requests or face a decrease in funding. He said the ministry should be careful in trying to manipulate schools with subsidies…Given the fierce opposition, an education ministry official said that the notice is aimed at urging national universities to decide on their own how to reorganize to cater to the needs of a fast-changing society. ‘Terminating humanities programs is indeed one possibility if that doesn’t match people’s contemporary needs,’ said the official, who did not want to be named due to ministry policies.” In “Humanities Under Attack,” Takamitsu Sawa says, “I believe that I am not alone in thinking that if Japan is serious about getting 10 of its universities into the world’s top 100, it will be far more cost-effective and advantageous to promote, rather than abolish or curtail, education and research in the humanities and social sciences.”

    I must identify my bias here, however, since I tend to believe university professors and university administrators more than I believe the wording of government officials when it comes to ‘realigning’ and ‘streamlining’ university offerings. I strongly suspect the profs and admins have the right of it when they say that the pseudo-positive language of the governmental missives indicates a willingness to cut funding to schools that don’t cut Humanities in part or in whole.

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