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Japan: Autumn enrollment at universities must be continuously studied

University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo has decided to shelve for the time being a plan to switch the enrollment period for new students to autumn, which is the standard in many foreign countries.

It is a major retreat from the idea it initially proposed. Yet we believe discussions toward realizing the autumn enrollment system must continue hereafter.

There is no prospect of various national and other examinations changing their schedules, which are based on the premise of the current spring enrollment and graduation system. In-depth discussions did not take place on such things as how to utilize the “gap term”–the period between spring, when students pass entrance exams, and autumn, when classes begin–and how to lessen the burden on their parents.

As a reason for putting off the autumn enrollment plan, University of Tokyo President Junichi Hamada said, “We concluded it is thoughtless to change our enrollment period alone if society is not ready for it.”

The idea of siding with the University of Tokyo did not spread well. Even within the University of Tokyo, quite a few people expressed caution over the idea, saying it is too early to adopt such a system. These factors seem to have affected the university’s decision.

Behind the idea of the university coming up with the autumn enrollment plan was a sense of crisis that, if the current system is left unchanged, the university will be left behind in the competition with foreign universities, which has been increasingly intensifying. 

Low foreigner rates

Compared with major universities in the United States and Europe, the University of Tokyo has lower rates of foreign students and instructors. The university hoped to lure highly capable people from overseas to raise the university’s research levels by changing the enrollment period to the international standard.

Along with the progress of globalization, people with strong language skills and negotiating power who can play important roles in the international arena are required in various fields.

The autumn enrollment system, which enables more Japanese students to study abroad, has the possibility of responding to such a demand, we believe.

Because of such reasons, many supporters of the plan emerged from the business world one after another. The government incorporated in the growth strategy it announced recently a stipulation to create an environment conducive to an autumn enrollment system. The Liberal Democratic Party included the “promotion of autumn enrollment at universities” in one of its campaign pledges for the House of Councillors election.

The momentum built up around the idea should be maintained.

Easier to study abroad

Instead of shifting to autumn enrollment, the University of Tokyo will introduce a quarter system by the end of the 2015 academic year. By increasing the number of terms to four per academic year, the university will make it easier for students to participate in short-term study abroad programs after each terms.

The university chose the measure apparently because it is more likely to work. However, a quarter system has some problems such as a difficulty having a gap term to allow students to have various experiences before entering the university.

It is important for the industry, government and academia to cooperate in solving the problems associated with introducing the autumn enrollment system. For instance, it will be necessary for public offices and private businesses to promote the introduction of a year-round recruitment system to make full use of the experiences of those students who have studied abroad.

It is essential for universities and colleges to carry out education to nurture internationally minded people by improving their curriculums and raising the quality of lessons conducted in English.

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