Japan Table of Contents
College entrance is based largely on the scores that students achieved in entrance examinations. Private institutions accounted for nearly 80 percent of all university enrollments in 1991, but with a few exceptions, the public national universities are the most highly regarded. This distinction had its origins in historical factors--the long years of dominance of the select imperial universities, such as Tokyo and Kyoto universities, which trained Japan's leaders before the war--and also in differences in quality, particularly in facilities and faculty ratios. In addition, certain prestigious employers, notably the government and select large corporations, continue to restrict their hiring of new employees to graduates of the most esteemed universities. There is a close link between university background and employment opportunity. Because Japanese society places such store in academic credentials, the competition to enter the prestigious universities is keen. In addition, the eighteen-year-old population is still growing, increasing the number of applicants.
Students applying to national universities take two entrance examinations, first a nationally administered uniform achievement test and then an examination administered by the university that the student hope to enter. Applicants to private universities need to take only the university's examination. Some national schools have so many applicants that they use the first test, the Joint First Stage Achievement Test, as a screening device for qualification to their own admissions test.
Such intense competition means that many students can not compete successfully for admission to the college of their choice. An unsuccessful student can either accept an admission elsewhere, forego a college education, or wait until the following spring to take the national examinations again. A large number of students choose the last option. These students, called ronin (see Glossary), spend an entire year, and sometimes longer, studying for another attempt at the entrance examinations.
Yobiko (see Glossary) are private schools that, like many juku, help students prepare for entrance examinations. While yobiko have many programs for upper-secondary school students, they are best known for their specially designed full-time, year-long classes for ronin. The number of applicants to four-year universities totaled almost 560,000 in 1988. Ronin accounted for about 40 percent of new entrants to four-year colleges in 1988. Most ronin were men, but about 14 percent were women. The ronin experience is so common in Japan that the Japanese education structure is often said to have an extra ronin year built into it.
Yobiko sponsor a variety of programs, both full-time and part-time, and employ an extremely sophisticated battery of tests, student counseling sessions, and examination analysis to supplement their classroom instruction. The cost of yobiko education is high, comparable to first-year university expenses, and some specialized courses at yobiko are even more expensive. Some yobiko publish modified commercial versions of the proprietary texts they use in their classrooms through publishing affiliates or by other means, and these are popular among the general population preparing for college entrance exams. Yobiko also administer practice examinations throughout the year, which they open to all students for a fee.
In the late 1980s, the examination and entrance process were the subjects of renewed debate. In 1987 the schedule of the Joint First Stage Achievement Test was changed, and the content of the examination itself was revised for 1990. The schedule changes for the first time provided some flexibility for students wishing to apply to more than one national university. The new Joint First Stage Achievement Test was prepared and administered by the National Center for University Entrance Examination and was designed to accomplish better assessment of academic achievement.
The Ministry of Education hoped many private schools would adopt or adapt the new national test to their own admissions requirements and thereby reduce or eliminate the university tests. But, by the time the new test was administered in 1990, few schools had displayed any inclination to do so. The ministry urged universities to increase the number of students admitted through alternate selection methods, including admission of students returning to Japan from long overseas stays, admission by recommendation, and admission of students who had graduated from upper-secondary schools more than a few years before. Although a number of schools had programs in place or reserved spaces for returning students, only 5 percent of university students were admitted under these alternate arrangements in the late 1980s.
Other college entrance issues include proper guidance for college placement at the upper-secondary level and better dissemination of information about university programs. The ministry provides information through the National Center for University Entrance Examination's on-line information access system and encourages universities, faculties, and departments to prepare brochures and video presentations about their programs.
Data as of January 1994
Japan Table of Contents