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The number of doctoral students in Japan is now almost half of what it was 17 years ago

By Dale Roll, SoraNews24

If you want to get ahead in the world, everyone says you should go to college and get a bachelor’s degree. That’s true in Japan, where it’s generally a requirement for getting any decent salaried position. But though there’s always the option to pursue a higher level of education with a master’s or a PhD, in Japan, they don’t have the same appeal.

In fact, the number of doctoral students in Japan has been steadily decreasing since it hit its peak in 2003. This is worrisome for Japan’s science industries, as graduate university students are thought to be the lifeblood of scientific research and development in Japan, and provide the core work force at the country’s science industries, including their world-famous chemical companies, which are among some of the richest in the country.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Education, the number of PhD graduates was 11,637 in 2003, but has since decreased by almost half, to just 5,963 this year. Since 2003 was 17 years ago, you might think the decrease in doctoral graduates is due to the country’s continually declining birth rate, but in fact the statistics say otherwise. The number of doctoral graduates per one million citizens has also decreased; in 2017, it was 119, compared to 131 in 2008.

Compare that to the U.S., Germany and South Korea, which all increased their number of graduates per one million citizens since 2008. These numbers are bleak for Japan, whose science industries form the backbone of their economy. But what could be causing this decline in interest in pursuing the sciences to a higher academic level? Experts in the science and academic industries say it’s because the costs of getting a PhD outweigh the benefits in Japan.

Akira Yoshino, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry, pointed out that it’s because PhD candidates are concerned about their employment prospects once they graduate. Yoshino says that, though having a doctorate provides a leg-up in finding employment in most other countries, there are no such considerations in Japan.

“I think that there should be recognition of the achievement of a PhD, as well as preferential treatment and pay for doctoral graduates,” he added. He also suggested that young people these days are not able to devote themselves to long-term research. “Academic research is a search for the truth, or is based on something the researcher has a deep curiosity about that they can single-mindedly pursue. It’s absolutely important to have one mission to focus on. Along those lines, I believe that it’s very important to cultivate an environment in Japan where someone can settle down to research something for 10 years or more, and feel secure about it.”

Yoshino himself started studying lithium-ion batteries when was 33 years old, and devoted all his energy to researching that single topic for nearly 40 years. His hard work paid off when he earned the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 for his impactful work on lithium-ion batteries.

Hirotaka Sakaue, associate professor of Aerospace Mechanical Engineering at Notre Dame University, agrees that having a doctorate amounts to little in the eyes of Japanese companies. Sakaue attained his PhD at Purdue University in the United States, but when he tried to find work in Japan, all of the jobs available based their pay on age rather than achievement, and the experience he gained through his PhD courses wasn’t even considered.

“In America, once you have a PhD, your annual salary changes greatly,” he said. “In my field of aerospace mechanical engineering, getting a PhD in Japan has no effect on your pay and so doesn’t have any appeal.”

What’s more, many U.S. doctorate programs in the sciences provide a stipend to their students, but Japanese universities offer no such benefits. “Since they’d have to work while studying for three years, I’m not sure many master’s students see any reason to get a PhD,” Sakaue said. He believes that a revision of the compensation system and the fostering of an environment that makes it easy for students to continue their post-graduate degrees is essential to raising the numbers again.

This problem serves as yet another example of much-needed workplace reform in Japan. The emphasis on seniority, rather than actual experience or qualifications, is a problem in many industries and for many workers, not only PhD candidates but also foreign workers and other employees with specialized qualifications.

Given that having a PhD has merit when applying for permanent residency in Japan, it’s probably not a matter of society viewing the degree as worthless, so hopefully more companies can change their tune and begin to actively work to promote advanced education in science.

Source: NHK News via Hachima Kiko

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© SoraNews24

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There are two very important reasons for this.

1.- There is no jobs in academia, if a department have a single postgraduate student a year, but it takes 10 years to have a vacancy it still means they are preparing 9 PhD graduates more than what they are going to take in a permanent position. The rest are to search for a job elsewhere, but since this is a generalized situation there are simply no jobs anywhere. So graduates are to look to a series of temporary positions until they leave for a job in a company where their degree is not even wanted.

2.- Research gets mostly short grants that require immediate results. For the principal investigators this is not so bad, they get to publish sooner or later with anything useful any of their students or postdocs manage to produce in that time, but for the students and researchers hired for a specific program there is a very good chance their efforts will not be reflected in a published paper. Something requiring 4-5 years of work has to be done with a budget that last only 1 or 2. For a doctoral graduate this means 1 or 2 years of their CV not justified with a paper, which means he will not be hired anywhere else.

As a consequence the people that are successful are either the 5% that is above the rest and can secure a permanent job or those that already could get it without the PhD (like medical doctors that do a postgraduate course). In any case there is no incentive for students to enter a doctoral course, well rewarded and fulfilling alternatives are much easier to complete. The loss is mainly to Japanese science, to the advantage of many foreign companies and institutes.

It's sad seeing how people still hope to get a lot of Nobel prizes every year

5 ( +6 / -1 )

If you're a PhD student who speaks English in Japan, be careful your professor will expect you to check his English if not write or translate his papers, slideshows and presentations.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

One of the biggest problems is the money. Japan is one of the few countries that doesn't pay for Ph.D., moreover the students have to pay tuition by themselves. There are few scholarships (most notably the JSPS DC), and mostly low- or no-interest loans. Combined with the lack of a clear advantage in job hunting for a PhD, and insecurity in academic positions, the program becomes less and less attractive. The typical age bracket is 24-27 years old, and peer pressure and often parents pressure* forces sometimes even academic types into finding a job after master.

*I remember a guy (at Todai!) whose father was adamant against him going to Ph.D. in science. The father even said that Ph.D.s are "society garbage"(社会のくず)and he was a medical doctor! The guy was stubborn though, and went to US for a Ph.D.; he is struggling now, 3rd year into postdoc in Japan.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

All you're going to get for your B.D is bs. You'll be overworked, undervalued, underpaid and stressed out anyway so why bother.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Mocheake, you talk about B.D. or Ph.D. (the topic here)? And you talk from experience?

I got a Ph.D. in science from a Japanese university, and my career to date was good. Of course, it could be better, and it could be worse, but overall I am happy I made that choice

2 ( +3 / -1 )

“In America, once you have a PhD, your annual salary changes greatly,” he said. “In my field of aerospace mechanical engineering, getting a PhD in Japan has no effect on your pay and so doesn’t have any appeal.”

Especially in Japan, your previous background when entering company almost doesn't matter since many Japanese company will train anyone including those PhD graduate as other graduates.

There is no jobs in academia, if a department have a single postgraduate student a year, but it takes 10 years to have a vacancy it still means they are preparing 9 PhD graduates more than what they are going to take in a permanent position

Especially when the number of local students is declining so no new opening position except to replace those who retires. Also having new universities in Japan chance are really small .

2 ( +2 / -0 )

2 years ago i got my PhD from one of the top universities in Japan. Looking back, it was kind of worthless academically speaking.... I got very little and poor laboratory training.... so I didnt got a lot of skills out of my PhD....

Overall i dont regret it, because living in Japan for 4 years was fantastic as a life experience, I really enjoyed my time there and miss the country a lot.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think it's also partly to do with the fact the population drop has made it easier to get a job so there's less incentive to do a PhD or even a master's to get ahead

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why bother when compared to the rest of the world they just take the doctoral's degree and make a better high paying salary job.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Intentionally forced shrinking of population and economy includes shrinking of the number of PhD. You don’t even need any degree to understand that, do you?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan’s standing is on a slippery slope.

China will soon dominate Asia in the majority of fields and as their products surpass all others, Japan will become a footnote in the annals of history...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suspect that this is because companies do not want or want to pay overly clever young employees. Any extra education is feared more than respected.

The number of ryugakusei, Japanese studying abroad, has also greatly fallen, regardless of any talk of internationalization and globalization.

Some of this is due to demographics, a simple fall in the number of young people. Compared to 17 years ago, there will be millions fewer people in their twenties.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

My impression of a Ph.D. is a smart person who is lazy and realizes that working for a company sucks. When I was in grad school I met a mid-30's guy with a family living on campus and he was in like his 8th year of a Ph.D. program in something like spiritual studies. His Japanese wife was always complaining that he refused to get a part time job and never worked so she finally stepped up. I kind of respect him.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Because most universities only have one PhD intake a year which has a selection progress and then they only take about 5-10 students

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

If they're Not doing those Phd for just themselves, then it's good, otherwise rather employ a person who is determine and interested to do for the whole by giving some training.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Unless they will be teaching in a university as a tenured professor then there is little need today for a PhD. The face of degree need has changed drastically since the 2010s. With AI and technology advance there is now little need for a high number of STEM advanced degrees as well. If the students want a career most employment recruiters are calling for medical and trades.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

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