Why is the Japanese higher education still conventional after two decades of reform? Incremental Kaizen has never reached innovative restructuring - Fujio Ohmori

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  • IMHE General Conference 2012 18 September 2012 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori


  • 1. Why is the Japanese higher education still conventional after two decades of reform? Incremental Kaizen has never reached innovative restructuring Professor Fujio Ohmori Centre for Higher Education Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan IMHE General Conference 2012On 18 Sepetember 2012 at OECD in Paris, France
  • 2. Japan Non-existent in the International Discourse of Higher Education Japan is almost non-existent in the discourse of global higher education, which frequently mentions China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Although Japan has been suffering from two decades of economic stagnation, it is still the third largest national economy in the world. Without doubt, the country still keeps the strongest base of science and technology among non- Western nations. Why is Japan so quiet in the globalised higher education? The issue of language barrier is an obvious resaon. But is that all? IMHE-GC2012 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori 2
  • 3. Hypothesis: Conventional governance at both the systemic and institutional levels Japanese universities are rarely mentioned as a cutting edge model for innovative teaching and learning. The political discourse in Japan almost always identifies the higher education as needing reform and revitalization despite two decades of university reform since 1991, when deregulations of the curriculum were implemented. A decisive factor behind this lack of dynamism seems to be the status quo rooted in conventional governance at both the systemic and institutional levels in the author’s view. This means the shortage of strategic management among Japanese universities within the stubbornly persistent governance structure. IMHE-GC2012 3 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori
  • 4. Question of institutional autonomy National universities were part of the government’s administrative structure. Their assets were owned by the state, and their staff were all civil servants. With the enactment of a law, all 89 national universities were incorporated as of 1 April 2004. Regulations have not been removed but “relaxed”. For example, balances at the year-end will not be carried forward without government’s approval. Private universities are not free from the ministry’s control too. The establishment of any private HEI and/or its programme(s) requires authorisation by the Minister of MEXT. IMHE-GC2012 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori 4
  • 5. Diffuse governance biased towards the status quo University autonomy in Japan has been almost regarded as autonomy of individual faculties. Any proposal for institution- wide policy can be easily blocked by a single faculty’s objection. Consensus among all the faculties is prerequisite for any central decision-making of importance. Internal decision-making within a faculty is generally of conventional collegiality based on consensus among the academic staff members. The problem here is not non-existence of top-down decision- making but that of any decision-making, for organisational change, including bottom-up one. IMHE-GC2012 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori 5
  • 6. The case of Good Practice (GP): Kaizen Movement for Improving Teaching A Good Practice (GP) programme for improving teaching and learning, competitive bidding-based project-funding scheme by MEXT, which started in 2003 and ended in 2007, is said to have had a considerable impact. During the five years, there were 2270 applications and 285 were selected as Distinctive GP. Examining all the 285 Distinct GP projects, the author have found that only 18 projects are linked to, or accompanied by, restructuring of a degree programme, department or faculty. The rest projects seem to be Kaizen or improvement within an existent programme, department or faculty. Such Kaizen was very often creating new add-on modules IMHE-GC2012 (courses), such as project-based learning, volunteer Fujio Ohmori 6 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 activity,
  • 7. Conclusion The lack of dynamism seems to be a symptom in the Japanese higher education. While the incorporation of national universities was said to enhance institutional autonomy, such discourse does not necessarily reflect the reality in which strategic management is still restricted by the rigid and insufficiently transparent regulatory framework. The Good Practice (GP) projects have tended to be not a whole sale restructuring but add-on Kaizen within the limitations by the conventional governance structure at the institutional level and the rigid regulatory framework at the systemic level. IMHE-GC2012 7 Sep18 Copyright (C) 2012 Fujio Ohmori