Do not abandon humanities studies in reforming national universities
It is important for national universities to promote their own reforms so they serve as centers of knowledge.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has sent a notice to 86 national universities urging them to reexamine their overall organization and operations. In line with the notice, universities will be expected to draw up six-year plans of their operational targets, starting next fiscal year.
National universities have been granted a greater degree of freedom in operational and financial management under legislation designed to transform them into incorporated institutions in fiscal 2004. Nevertheless, there is no denying that some national universities are lackluster and lack distinctiveness.
Colleges and universities are expected to function as institutions tasked with producing people who can work and act internationally or have the ability to vitalize regional communities. Therefore, we find it reasonable for the education ministry to issue such a notice, which calls on universities to clarify the strengths and distinctive features they possess.
Last year’s amendment to the School Education Law has made it easier for university presidents to exercise leadership in administering their institutions of higher learning. It is essential that they provide a better environment for educational and research activities at their institutions, a task requiring them to appropriately exercise their vested authority in dealing with personnel and budgetary matters in a way that serves their strategic purposes.
But one feature of the ministry’s notice is open to question. This concerns the proposed reform at university departments and postgraduate schools devoted to literature, humanities and social science studies as well as teacher training. Universities covered by this reform have been urged to abolish some of their departments or convert them into ones dedicated to the exploration of fields in high social demand.
Admittedly, one aspect of humanities and social science studies is that it is not easy to see what has been accomplished over the short term. In fact, the results of studies in these disciplines seem to be less tangible than those of science and technology studies, which are conducive to the creation of new industries, as well as medical courses that lead to progress in medical technology. In many cases, graduates from humanities and social science faculties land jobs that have nothing to do with their major fields of study.
Proper balance required
With an increasing number of corporations saying they cannot afford to train employees, industrial circles are strongly pressing colleges and universities to have their students acquire practical skills helpful to them when they enter the workplace after graduation. Some people even go so far as to say it would be more profitable for students to be trained to gain high scores in English proficiency tests, rather than being taught English literature.
However, it should be noted that students who explore classical works, philosophy and history will be able to acquire viewpoints that will allow them to look at things from different perspectives. Such students can also expect to develop a mental attitude marked by a respect for different values. We believe one important task for colleges and universities is to help students gain a broad range of general knowledge and deep insight.
What is needed is to make sure colleges and universities conduct educational and research activities in a manner that ensures a proper balance between humanities and social science studies and those of science and technology.
Beginning next fiscal year, the education ministry plans to grant universities larger subsidies to help cover operational expenses if they are willing to promote organizational reforms. In assessing the degree of each university’s success in such endeavors, the ministry reportedly will use such yardsticks as the outcome of students’ job hunting activities and university-launched venture activities. Another yardstick will be the extent to which progress has been made in putting intellectual property into practical use.
With the government’s dire fiscal situation in mind, it also will be necessary to allocate more budgetary resources where truly necessary, and less elsewhere. However, our nation’s university education could eventually lack depth if mistakes are made in judging what society really wants from institutions of higher learning, a move that could lead to abandoning humanities and social science studies.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2015)