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The quality of undergraduate and graduate education was the subject of widespread criticism in the 1980s, and its improvement was one of the focal points of university reform. One complaint was that students, once admitted, had little incentive to study because graduation was virtually automatic. Attendance requirements were minimal, and, except for examinations, students were free to come and go as they pleased. Some of the teaching was poor, and the students often did little studying. Students and the system were accused of squandering the four years.

In response to the call for university reform in the reports of the National Council on Educational Reform, the ministry founded the University Council in 1987. High on the council's agenda were the diversification and reform of graduate education, improvement in the management and organization of universities, and the development of a policy for lifelong education and diversification in educational activities. The recommendations that had emerged by 1989 include improvements in the provision of private financial support to universities and modified personnel practices for college instructors in the national schools. There are calls for improved education in the fields of information science and automation and the establishment or reorganization of departments and research faculties in those fields. Finally, in the area of lifelong education, changes under discussion are the provision of more public lectures, expansion of university entrance opportunities for the general adult population, improvements in the University of the Air, and better links between the school and the community.

The University of the Air, which has no entrance requirements, was originally designed to give all Japanese access to higher education through radio and television broadcasts. Although it is hampered by limited broadcast radius and frequencies, it has a potentially leading role in promoting lifelong learning (see Social Education , this ch.).

Internationalization is an issue at every education level, but particularly for higher education. The number of students studying in Japan from foreign countries, especially Asian countries, is increasing, and the higher education structure is not particularly well equipped to deal with them. In 1988 approximately 25,000 foreign students from more than 100 countries were studying in Japanese universities and colleges, and the ministry expected the figure to be 100,000 by the beginning of the twenty-first century. The ministry is also working to regulate and improve the standards for teaching Japanese to foreign students and trying to improve their financial and living arrangements. Beginning in the 1980s, Japanese universities established branches in the United States, and many schools in the United States also set up Japanese branches. At least one Japanese women's university began to require its undergraduates to spend a semester on the campus of an affiliated school in the United States.

As in virtually every other area of education, debate over reform of graduate education and research was widespread at the end of the 1980s. The University Council established a subcommittee on graduate schools consisting of academics, researchers, and corporate executives. The subcommittee identified a number of critical issues: establishing graduate schools that were independent of traditional university structures, founding new and specialized graduate schools, reconsidering entrance and graduation criteria, increasing the international student population and internationalizing graduate education, addressing the qualifications of graduate school faculties, modifying the mission of doctoral courses, arranging for flexibility in admissions to graduate school, standardizing the length of graduate programs and reconciling the variations between degrees awarded by different schools and in different disciplines, establishing an accreditation and evaluation system, and reviewing the financial situation of graduate students. These recommendations were acknowledged in the ministry's FY 1988 budget, which included funds for expanding student aid programs, reforming graduate programs, and establishing a new Graduate School for Advanced Studies. Proposed reform of the research system concentrated on improving cooperation between universities and the private sector, and between universities and other institutions.

Finally, the subcommittee recommended greater Japanese participation and cooperation in international projects and greater efforts to make Japanese scientific and technical literature available in English. Although there were more programs for international scholarly exchange and more foreign researchers and foreign graduate students in Japan than in the past, Japanese society and education institutions were still having some difficulties in accommodating them smoothly.

Some of the urgency behind considering reforms in graduate education and research comes from the recognition that Japan is increasingly involved in advanced research and is no longer assured of having foreign models to study. To remain competitive and to guarantee its future, Japan needs to make serious changes in its education and research structures. Its institutions needs to be more flexible and diverse and needs to encourage the creativity in education that would foster new technology. This change is seen to require a national effort, one not limited to the graduate sector.

Data as of January 1994

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