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Midsummer Issue (Jul.)

Trend Eye

A Balance of Education and Research

This section is a serialized section from Shunsuke Yamagishi, who is active as an education journalist, about education problems.

Report regarding reduction of enrollment for the Doctoral Program

A Buddhist monk who is an acquaintance of mine sent me a letter in which he mentioned that he was extremely busy writing his academic dissertation. He stated that "I still don't see any prospect of submitting the paper", and his letter had humble feeling. However, it may have been my own misunderstanding that led me to feel a sense of humbleness from the letter. Indeed, my acquaintance may have been working desperately to finish the paper.

The reason why I say so is because around that time, it was reported in the newspapers that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) had changed its current policy of giving priority to graduates schools and had notified all national universities to reduce the enrollment in Doctoral Programs. If this kind of notification is given to national universities, then the same kind of notification must be given to public and private universities, and this is indeed a major turning point in political policies regarding graduate schools.

As usual, national universities had not been told how but what number enrollment should be decreased or what percentage they should use as a basis for the reduction. According to the article, universities that received notification must consider such issues by themselves.

It seems that law schools and courses for the development of educational faculty are included in this reduction, so it is probable that other graduate schools such as accounting schools will also join the reduction.

In this kind of situation, it is not possible to simply tell universities to act freely and do what they think is appropriate. Therefore, there must be a wide variety of activities being conducted behind the scenes. I do not have any conclusive proof of this, but no matter how one thinks, this is not such a simple matter that it will be taken care of while someone is napping.

Schools such as the University of Tokyo may quickly consider matters for themselves and make new decisions while acting as if they did not know about directions from the MEXT. As expected, the University of Tokyo Newspaper reported that the Graduate School of Law had begun debates from spring of last year and had decided upon enrollment reduction based on independent policies.

2007 and 2008 were record years in terms of the most graduates produced throughout the entire country. Therefore, the duty to provide students with high quality lessons is surely placing a great load on educational faculty. As a result, the balance between education and research will crumble if something is not done to reduce this load. High-quality education can only be achieved if faculty is able to update their research and constantly reflect the results of their research into education.

Perhaps this is only understood by the School of Law at Tokyo University. It seems that other schools do not understand what is true for all law schools: subsequent education will become thin and will stall if actions are not taken to decrease the number of students and shift efforts to research.

MEXT is subservient to the Ministry of Law

If education will become thin, then why did the MEXT conduct so many increases in the enrollment of Doctoral Programs? When the Ministry of Law exclaimed that they would create law schools, there were a great number of complications, and finally the Ministry of Law approached the University Committee of the Central Council for Education with a plan to create professional graduate schools. At this time, the plan met with harsh criticism from the members of the Central Council for Education and statements were also made urging that the enrollment number be reduced.

However, after all has been decided, everything until now has been done in accordance with the desires of the Ministry of Law. During this time, I have not heard any incidences of the MEXT giving stern warnings to graduate schools regarding decreases in the quality of students. The MEXT has talked about the enhancement of education until they turned blue in the face, but they have not said that efforts should be placed in educational research because enrollment numbers are high. Eventually, in accordance with advice given by the Central Council for Education, the Ministry of Law exclaimed that great problems would occur at laws schools unless enrollment numbers were decreased. The MEXT began taken actions to reduce enrollment upon hearing this statement by the Ministry of Law. Although it is not a pretty expression, it is easy to see how the MEXT is riding on the back of the Ministry of Law. When the strong side makes a statement, the movement of the rider becomes easy to see.

Writing this sort of article creates an image of a sad government. However, when the parties involved are the MEXT and the Ministry of Law, there is not much else to say.

Doctors are the victims of political policies

If the enrollment in Doctoral Programs is increased, then it is difficult to have students write their academic dissertation and finish the programs. In such cases, there is no alternative then to label these students as having left the Doctoral Programs after acquiring the necessary credits for graduation. A system has been created for enabling these non-certified doctors to then write a true academic dissertation.

All might be well if this system was effective. However, the life of an non-certified doctor is extremely busy. There is no guarantee that such an individual will remain at the graduate school which was the base for their studies. Indeed, such individuals often find themselves working as part-time instructors and experiment research associates at a variety of different universities. In such a case, it is a difficult task to write an academic dissertation. There is no guarantee that an individual will faithfully work at writing their paper like my acquaintance the Buddhist monk.

If such individuals complain that writing their dissertation is too difficult, then they are likely to be criticized for a lack of effort. However, even if it is an exaggeration to refer to part-time instructors and experiment research assistants as sacrifices to political policy, it is certainly correct to refer to them as victims of political policy.

So, what should be done? In the future, who is going to consider and develop solid political policies? I hope that this issue will receive some consideration.

Shunsuke Yamagishi

Graduated in 1958 from the Niigata University Faculty of Humanities Department of Law. Served as a reporter at the Niigata Nippo and the Asahi Shimbun before becoming a Professor at Tama University (teacher-training course). After reaching the mandatory retirement age, served as a Visiting Professor until last year. In 1968, selected as an Honor Student for the First Term of the Oya Soichi Tokyo Mass Communication School. In 1970, received the Kikuchi Award for the series of newspaper articles entitled "The Japanese Sea of Tomorrow". Active as an education journalist. Has authored many works, including "At the Scene of University Reform" (Tamagawa University Publishing Department).