Realigning universities must improve financial base, quality of education

The Yomiuri ShimbunAmid the continued decline in the population of children, it will be even more difficult to maintain 780 universities nationwide. Efforts should be made to seek a realignment of universities in a manner that considers the needs of each community and helps improve the quality of education.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has hammered out a reform plan for promoting cooperation and realignment among universities. A committee of the ministry’s Central Council for Education will soon put together an interim report after discussing the matter.

The population of 18-year-olds has started falling after previously remaining level. The number of people entering universities in fiscal 2040 is expected to fall by about 20 percent from the current level, and the percentage of students actually enrolled will likely drop to as low as 84 percent of the available slots.

A shortage of students below the intake quota has already become a serious issue at many private universities in provincial areas, and there are concerns that their financial difficulties could worsen. To ensure the quality of education, it will be unavoidable to realign universities.

The education ministry will likely reconsider the current system by which each national university corporation is allowed to operate only one university.

Due to the central government’s financial circumstances, subsidies for national universities’ operational expenses have been reduced. Enabling university corporations to run more than one university will make such changes possible as improving the efficiency of their operations. Universities could also share each other’s facilities.

Last month, Nagoya University and Gifu University started talks aimed at integrating their corporations, with an eye on the new system. The plan would place both universities under the umbrella of a newly established corporation. They seek to complete the integration in fiscal 2020. Efforts should be made to enrich the quality of lessons and research activities by utilizing the distinctive features of both universities.

Protect students’ interests

The latest reform proposal also covers private universities, advancing a plan to allow them to transfer some of their departments to other private universities. This can be expected to make the relevant procedures easier than integrating two universities as a whole, thereby encouraging the university realignment endeavor.

However, it is no easy task for financially troubled universities to look for bodies to which they can transfer faculties. Another task is transferring students and teaching staff.

The education ministry had considered the possibility of university integration without regard for the framework of national, public and private universities. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of cases in which local governments have transformed private universities into public ones. However, there still is a high hurdle to changing private universities into national universities.

This is because it is difficult to increase the intake quotas of national universities for fiscal reasons. There also are more than a few cases in which the founding principle of a private university would hinder its transformation into a national university.

The education ministry has announced a new policy of establishing new corporations into which national, public and private universities would be grouped by region or by academic field. The plan appears aimed at accelerating university integration through even more loosely facilitated cooperation among universities.

In the future, the ministry will also consider such plans as integrating faculties in one group that pursue the same academic studies. If one university in a group goes under, other members of the group would function as a vehicle for accepting students and teaching staff from the failed one.

It is important for universities in each region to utilize their particular features and clarify the functions and roles each university should fulfill. Efforts should also be made to ensure that grouping universities together helps bolster their business foundations.

Realignment should be promoted in a manner that benefits students. It is vital to keep this perspective in mind.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2018)Speech


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