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Indigenous People Lost in Japan: Ainu
—Comparing Gaps in Perception of Higher Education of Indigenous Australians—

Koji Maeda
Professor, Graduate School of Education, Waseda University

Universal Access and Affirmative Action

According to the FY2017 School Basic Survey (preliminary results) announced by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on August 3, 2017, the undergraduate university entrance rate (including those who failed to enter a university immediately after high school graduation) has reached 52.6%. According to Martin Trow[1], when the entrance rate exceeds 50% it signifies the transition from the mass-type that aims for equal opportunity in education to the universal-type that acknowledges universal participation in higher education by diverse population groups. When entering the universal-type, inequality of opportunity for higher education due to race, ethnicity, social standards or gender is corrected, and access to higher education shifts to accepting groups of people with diverse and different attributes who were considered to be at a disadvantage. An active measure (quarter system) is carried out aiming for a ratio of such groups in the higher education population to equal the structure of the national population. This is an application of affirmative action (normalization).

Article 14, paragraph 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[2] adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 states “indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination,” and notes the need for special measures or affirmative action to eliminate discrimination.

What differences are there between Japan and Australia in the higher education policies for indigenous peoples?

University Entrance Rate of Ainu People and Support Provided

According to the Hokkaidogai no Ainu Seikatu Jittai Chousa Sagyou Bukai Houkokusho, Ainu Seisaku Suishinkaigi, [Working Group Final Report: Survey of Lives of Ainu People outside of Hokkaido] created in 2011 by the working group of the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion (Chairperson: Chief Cabinet Secretary) , the university entrance rate for Ainu people aged 29 and below in Hokkaido was 20.2%, and those who entered university outside of Hokkaido was 31.1%, while the desire of Ainu people to receive a university education was not low at 31.7% for those who live in Hokkaido and 42.5% outside of Hokkaido. More than 70% of Ainu individuals who decided not to pursue higher education was due to financial reasons[3], which highlighted the issue of poverty in the low university entrance rate. For Ainu people, more support for higher education is the pressing issue.

As of now, the only universities that have set up “indigenous people slots” were Shikoku Gakuin University with “Special admission on recommendation for discriminated minorities” (extending also to discriminated minorities from Okinawa and Amami Islands), and Sapporo University through the Urespa (Nurture in Ainu language) Project providing financial support with scholarships. Other than these efforts exhibited by individual universities, no measures have been established at the national level to add Ainu slots to university admissions. Structuring perspectives to increase opportunities for Ainu people for university education is urgent.

Higher Education Support System for Indigenous Australians Established by the Government

This is a photograph taken in August 2016 while teaching in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Australia. From left to right is Associate Professor Zane Ma Rhea at Monash University (a researcher on Indigenous Australians Education), writer and Associate Professor Peter Anderson at Queensland University of Technology (Deputy Director of Indigenous Research and Engagement Unit). Currently, the above members are working on an international joint research project called Post-Imperial Perspectives on Indigenous Education: Lessons from Japan and Australia.

Australia has residents from diverse cultural backgrounds with groups including women, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, people from rural and isolated areas, people with disabilities and Indigenous Australians. The national government has moved forward by introducing a support system for groups that shaped the local culture. In 1990, a policy document announced by the national government entitled “A Fair Chance for All” names groups of people in the most disadvantaged positions for higher education to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and created the framework for a support system starting with admission and continuing through graduation. Following is an outline of the support system[4].

  • Introducing special admission systems for promoting the acceptance of Indigenous Australian students not meeting university education qualifications such as those who have not completed middle school education.
  • Introducing measures for improving basic scholastic abilities by establishing orientation courses to be attended prior to beginning undergraduate studies.
  • Setting up an Aboriginal support unit that offers a wide range of services after admission to the university, including support for school work necessary in research and study activities, as well as personal counseling.
  • Offering supplementary classes with the objective of improving basic language and math skills and acquiring basic knowledge required for courses.
  • Offering selective types of study, such as correspondence education, to Indigenous Australians living in rural and isolated areas.
  • Developing curriculum and teaching methods that reflect Aboriginal circumstances and demands of their communities.
  • Promoting participation of Indigenous Australians in the decision-making process within the university.

With the above support framework indicated by the national government as a foundation, universities are to establish specific support measures suitable for individual circumstances in receiving Indigenous students. For example, in New South Wales, there is a university that offers a program for developing indigenous doctors who will be able to provide medical services to Indigenous Australian communities that have poor health and sanitary conditions. Based on the political objective of self-decision to “resolve issues of the Indigenous Australian by Indigenous Australian,” 32 staff members are stationed in the support office to support Indigenous students participating in this medical program. In the screening standards, Indigenous Australian students are given a 20-point advantage in the minimum passing score for the university qualification exam HSC. Their learning style and educational background are considered, and a representative of the Indigenous community is added as an examiner for interviews for assistance.[5]

While dynamic discussions are taking place on free higher education, we need to question the meaning of the universal-type university education.

  • ^ Martin A. Trow, Kougakureki Shakai no Daigaku—Erito kara Masu he [The University in the Highly Educated Society: From Elite to Mass Higher Education], Joint translation by Ikuo Amano and Kazuyuki Kitamura (Tokyo University Press, 1976), pp.194-195
  • ^ United Nations, General Assembly, 61/295. (2007) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, p.5; available from http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid//471355a82.html; Internet; Accessed January 12, 2010
  • ^ Working group on Survey of Lives of Ainu People outside of Hokkaido, Council for Ainu Policy Promotion, Hokkaidogai no Ainu Seikatu Jittai Chousa Sagyou Bukai Houkokusho, Ainu Seisaku Suishinkaigi, [Working Group Final Report: Survey of Lives of Ainu People outside of Hokkaido] (2011), pp.17-21; available from http://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/ainusuishin/dai3/siryou3_3.pdf; Internet; Accessed August 23, 2017
  • ^ Dept. of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) and National Board of Employment, Education and Training. A Fair Chance for All: National and Institutional Planning for Equity in Higher Education, A discussion paper (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1990), pp.23-26
  • ^ From Semi-structured interview with Cowie, K. (pseudonym), Executive Officer of the Indigenous Student Support Centre of Coolie University (pseudonym) (August 30, 2010, at Indigenous Student Support Centre)

Koji Maeda
Professor, Graduate School of Education, Waseda University

Maeda is Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Waseda University. He holds a Ph.D. in Education, and his specialty is multicultural education. He has held the position of president for the Japan International Education Society and the Japanese Association for the Study of Learning Society, and Vice-President for the Fujisawa City Lifelong Learning University. He is Affiliate at Monash University.