Autumn is a new beginning for students across the USA. College campuses are abuzz with the start of the coming academic year. Wide-eyed freshmen step onto campus for the first time and upperclassmen arrive ready to continue their education. Meanwhile in Japan, students return from their summer break only halfway through an academic year that ends in late March, on a schedule completely out of sync with their North American and European counterparts.
Tokyo University, Japan’s most prestigious institution, is considering changing it’s academic calendar to a Fall start date, in an effort to attract more international students and make it easier for it’s own students to study abroad.
The Japanese academic year begins in early April and has vacations at different times of the year than in the West. First semester courses run deep into July, making it difficult for Japanese students to enroll in summer courses abroad.
Todai, as it is commonly called in Japan, was ranked the 30th best university in the world according to the Times Higher Education 2011-2012 World University Rankings annual report. Globally renowned for it’s research and academic credentials, the school was criticized for it’s lack of internationalization. As of May 1, 2011, only 2,996 of Todai’s 28,798 students were from outside of Japan. Even less impressive, only 339 total students chose to study abroad that same year.
The unique start date and placement of holidays has long been an obstacle for foreign students hoping to study in Japan. According to the Institute of International Education annual report released last November, of the 270,604 American students that studied abroad for academic credit in the 2009-2010 school year, only 2.3% of those opted to study in Japan. To put this number in perspective, it was the same percentage that chose Costa Rica.
A major challenge the proposal faces is the relationship between the academic year, timing of entrance exams, and fixed recruitment schedule of most Japanese companies. High school students take University entrance exams in January and February in anticipation of an April start date. Under the new proposal, Todai acceptees would have to wait 6 months between high school graduation and the start of their programs. Since most Japanese companies do their hiring in March, to coincide with graduation, the students graduating in May would be at a disadvantage, unable to begin work at the same time as their peers from other institutions.
Universities across the country wait anxiously to hear Todai’s decision. If adopted, the move could spark similar actions at other schools, forcing a restructuring of the nationwide academic calendar and possibly altering hiring practices.
Source: Yoree Koh WSJ, University of Tokyo website