Boost regional universities rather than limit students in central Tokyo

The Yomiuri ShimbunJust how much of an impact will curbing the enrollment quotas for universities in Tokyo’s 23 wards have on rectifying the overconcentration of students in the capital? Instead, greater efforts should be focused on promoting universities in regional areas.

A bill for the promotion of regional universities that would, in principle, ban for 10 years the opening of new universities or university departments, as well as any increase in enrollment quotas at universities within the 23 wards, has passed the House of Representatives. It was supported by both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, as well as opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and Nippon Ishin no Kai.

After being discussed in the House of Councillors, the bill is expected to become law during the current Diet session.

While many private universities in regional areas are struggling due to having fewer students than their capacities, the number of students attending universities in the 23 wards is trending upward. The bill was compiled in response to a request by the National Governors’ Association to put the brakes on the exodus of young people to Tokyo and boost universities in regional areas.

The association’s sense of urgency over the nation’s rapidly shrinking population and the depopulation of regional areas is understandable. However, there are lingering doubts over the method, which seems to be aimed squarely at universities in central Tokyo.

During deliberations at the lower house, some opposition lawmakers expressed concerns about the enrollment quota restrictions. “This won’t lead to an increase in students at regional universities,” one said, while another insisted, “This could affect the business environment for private universities.”

Even an LDP lawmaker added a demand, saying, “The international competitiveness of universities must not be lost.”

Those are pertinent points.

Creating attractive jobs vital

It is vital not to stagnate education and research at universities in the central Tokyo area. If these universities are not allowed to freely increase their quota of students, it could become more difficult to establish new departments that meet changes in society, among other things.

The new rules should be implemented flexibly while carefully checking their benefits and adverse effects. Consideration also should be made to allow for approved increased enrollment quotas and university relocations already under way.

Above all else, it is vital to determine a definite course toward the promotion of regional universities during the limited 10-year period that these measures will be in place.

The University of Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture has put a focus on education and research in cutting-edge information and communication technology, and is forging various tie-ups with local authorities and companies.

A Keio University research institute in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, has developed new materials that are attracting attention from around the world. Start-ups harnessing these results were established in the region.

The bill included the establishment of subsidies for projects involving industry-academia-government collaboration. The government also will support companies that shift their head office functions to regional areas and the hiring of local people. Creating attractive employment opportunities will be essential for getting young people to settle in these areas.

It is hoped that more universities in urban areas will set up campuses in regional areas. Exchanges between students at urban and regional campuses would boost the vitality of those regions.

The controls on universities in the 23 wards will allow as exceptions increased quotas of mature students and international students, who are small in number compared with the situation at universities overseas. These universities will need to tap the special features of being located in the heart of Tokyo and get creative to attract a diverse array of students.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 12, 2018)Speech


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