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University of Tokyo gives up on plan to start academic year in autumn

47 Comments

The University of Tokyo (Todai) announced Wednesday that it has given up on its plan to start its academic year in autumn, and will instead divide the academic year into four terms of two months each, instead of the current two semesters.

Todai's grand announcement last year was an attempt to bring the Japanese academic year in line with those of overseas universities and nurture a generation of globally-oriented graduates. The calendar change was to have come into force in four years' time.

Speaking after a meeting of the presidents of national universities on Wednesday, Todai President Junichi Hamada said there were too many hurdles to overcome and that shifting the start of the academic year could not be done by one institution alone, but required a change in Japan's education system, Fuji TV reported.

Among the problems cited by Hamada were the fact that job recruitment programs and national exams for public service, law and medicine are based on March graduations.

The proposed change was also aimed at attracting foreign students who have represented a lucrative source of income for universities overseas for some time.

About 70% of schools and universities in the world begin their academic year in September or October, while April marks the start of the academic and business calendar in Japan.

Japan's educational cycle is seen as one of the factors that restrict international exchanges of students and teachers. Only 1.9% of some 14,000 undergraduate students at the University of Tokyo are from overseas, compared with 10% for Harvard University in the United States, according to education ministry figures.

Hamada said the four-semester plan, which is likely to start in March 2015, will make it easier for foreign students to study at Todai from the beginning of the second term in September, and for Japanese students to use the summer break of June-August to study abroad.

Waseda University, also hoping to attract prospective students from overseas, has already introduced four "quarter terms" as an alternative to the semester system.

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47 Comments
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Even the elite Todai cannot budge this moribund educational system.

16 ( +19 / -3 )

Another kick in the teeth for Japan joining the developed world.

2 ( +12 / -9 )

President Hamada worked very hard for this, but it was impossible. He was also trying to change the job recruiting system (the one that lasts 1-2 years), and the company don't want to hear about it. the society is not ready for these changes yet, unfortunately

9 ( +9 / -0 )

...that shifting the start of the academic year could not be done by one institution alone, but required a change in Japan’s education system

I think that was obvious to most people right from the start. One university against a whole country ... just isn't going to happen.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As long as the view is Japanese universities are mere "leisure lands" for students and real career education is conducted in the first 6 months on the job, companies and society will not seriously think about aligning the education cycle with the rest of the world.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If Japan wants to miss out on foreign students, bringing in cash, then that is their problem.

Any potential new technology that comes from those students will go to other countries.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Just like with the attitude about daylight saving,always have excuses as for why not,when it's really laziness/mendokusai as the real reason.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I was SO hopeful for Todai's change. It would do so much for globalizing Japan on so many different levels. I am disappointed this morning. If April employment rules could vanish......

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Weak. No doubt they buckled under pressure to keep the system the way it is. Well, I hope as a result they fail to get more international students. They need to realize that if they truly want more investment and foreign students to come over and specialize, they have to make the changes for it to happen.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

They are always blaming the scheduling as the main obstacle for foreign students studying in Japan, and I do agree that it is one factor. But what about the fact that not so many undergraduates around the world have the language abilities to be able to take university level classes in Japanese? Comparing Todai with Harvard's percentage seems strange to me, as there are a lot more undergrads around the world who have university-level English skills. If, on the other hand, Japanese universities are talking about setting up special programs with classes in Japanese language along with classes on other subjects taught in another language (such as English), such programs can be set up to be off kilter to the Japanese university schedule anyway.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

EVERYTHING would need to change, including the fiscal year. This whole April is the start of everything in Japanese society is really inefficient. Creates big bottlenecks in my job, at least. February and March are so mad that we have to turn down clients.

We'd all be better off, and richer, by breaking this rigid approach.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Good news.

What is "modern" or "enlightened" about starting in September instead of April? Just because America does things one way, doesn't mean Japan has to copy.

Vive la difference!

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

tadbitterJun. 20, 2013 - 09:46AM JST

But what about the fact that not so many undergraduates around the world have the language abilities to be able to take university level classes in Japanese? Comparing Todai with Harvard's percentage seems strange to me, as there are a lot more undergrads around the world who have university-level English skills.

I don't think this was about attracting undergraduates, as much as attracting post graduates. A lot of post graduate work at Todai is done in both English and Japanese.

I work with a lot of engineers who were Todai post graduates and they either had to use English in the labs or sink. They also had to attend / give presentations in English at international conferences as part of their course.

English language skills is not really the issue. It's about attracting the right calibre of non-Japanese student to improve the international prestige of Japanese universities and regenerate post-graduate research away from the stifling Sempai - Kohai relationship of Japanese academia.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Dog: Thanks. That makes more sense to me. They quoted undergrad percentages, so it sounded like they were looking for undergrads. But it was the article, not the univ, that was quoting.

On the other hand, post grads don't really need to start at a certain time of the year. I myself started my post grad work in a spring semester.

Just a thought.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What is "modern" or "enlightened" about starting in September instead of April? Just because America does things one way, doesn't mean Japan has to copy.

This comment misses the point. It's like saying just because America speaks English doesn't mean Japan has to. While on a certain level that thinking might be true, it doesn't change the fact that world business is generally conducted in English. And if Japanese companies cannot conduct business in English, they will miss out on global shifts.

The same goes for transforming education and employment cycles. Japan doesn't have to change, but they may miss out on missed opportunities due to forces bigger than Japan (or America for that matter).

4 ( +4 / -0 )

tadbitterJun. 20, 2013 - 10:27AM JST

On the other hand, post grads don't really need to start at a certain time of the year. I myself started my post grad work in a spring semester. Just a thought.

I might be wrong about this, but I don't think I am, the Japanese post-graduate academic year is in the same time linear as the Japanese undergraduate academic year because the post-grads have to partake in the same job hunting season as under-grads.

One of the main reasons that I hear from the post grads that they didn't go on to study their doctorate or study abroad (some of them are very very clever by any standard) is that such study would put them out of sync with the Japanese job hunting season.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Well they know it's not good. The world is not going to come to Japan's door when it slid from 2nd to 3rd largest economy. With an aging population that will continue. Barriers to innovation through education isn't happening beyond the borders and this will only get harder not easier the longer it takes

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If Japan wants to miss out on foreign students, bringing in cash, then that is their problem.

This change wasn't going to really do anything about this issue though. No one really wants to come and study in Japan because a) the quality of education here is a joke b) have you seen what the unis look like? They look like prisons for the most part c) Japanese companies don't want to hire Mike. They want to hire Taro. Taro who will shut up and be treated like crap, work unpaid overtime and not question the system d) The cost of living in Japanand flying back and forth between Japan and home is more than going other places e) Japan is well known for not wanting outsiders. If a smart kid had the choice between racist Japan or more open-minded England, I'm going with England.

I 100% support this idea but it was never going to increase international student numbers.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

If the university year started in Sept. and they also took the long summer break like in Europe and America, the uni's wouldn't need to run the ac during that hot summer period. Good for them and good for the country.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

was an attempt to bring the Japanese academic year in line with those of overseas universities and nurture a generation of globally-oriented graduates.

Never happen. Japanese students could care less about the outside world. From early in their junior year on, all they care about is landing a job. And anything that would hinder that, like going overseas to study, has zero interest.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

4 terms, 2 months each....

That doesn't sound too good either. Does this mean students starting in April will have end-of-term tests in May? How awkward.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What they fail to mention is that students at western universities are free to graduate anytime they finish their studies. The time of year is irrelevant. My last semester was December. The system in Japan is too rigid, though this is a reflection of the society in general.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Part of Todai's problem was it was leading a party of one. It's sad really but the idea was bound to fail from the beginning with only Todai carrying the banner for change.

They should lick their wounds but don't give up on the idea, expand it and get the other major universities on board too! Do that and then maybe MEXT will get involved.

The ball can not stop rolling here. Japan's future depends upon modernizing it's education system.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I am glad to hear they quit the foolish idea.

As tadbitter mentioned, it is just unrealistic to believe that undergraduate students from overseas have enough Japanese language ability to take classes in Japanese language at Japanese universities. When you look at the letter of intent published by the U of Tokyo on this fall admission issue, the only purpose of the whole thing was to increase the number of foreign undergraduate students at the University. It was doomed to fail from the beginning.

zichi

If the university year started in Sept. and they also took the long summer break like in Europe and America,

I agree. Longer summer holidays would further deteriorate the quality of Japanese students.

badman

What they fail to mention is that students at western universities are free to graduate anytime they finish their studies.

Really? I studied in Michigan, USA as a graduate student for two years. Everyone graduated in May.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Japan is providing considerable number of scholarship for international students such as Monbosho, Jaica, JSPS... These high educated people can help aging Japanese society, but it seems there is no unified will among power holders. Actually now Japan is providing highly educated work force for Australia, Europe and North America. I was hoping ABE knows something better than just printing money and make life of middle class more miserable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not sure why this is a big issue. Most Universities have semesters meaning you can finish early if you like (yes, the Grad Ceremonies are in May for everyone so relax). Todai changing again does nothing for anyone. University in Japan is a joke. A liesure ride of the same rote learning they've mastered since youth. Not sure why any foreign student would want to come here and waste money on a ridiculous undergrad degree. Post-grad, perhaps, but what is the goal? To live and work in Japan? As Tmarie said: They done' want Mike, they want Taro.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

lucabrasi: What is "modern" or "enlightened" about starting in September instead of April? Just because America does things one way, doesn't mean Japan has to copy. Vive la difference!

So, your issue here is just with America or with the concept of starting school in the fall? I guess I'm confused because you've singled out the States but neglected to note that the majority of school systems in the northern hemisphere, Europe and China included, start school in the fall. The prevailing accepted reason is that the school year follows the agricultural year. With many people in North America, China and Europe having been engaged in agriculture, it made sense to keep the kids home in the summer so that they could help out with farming. Continuing this tradition was, in part, because parents didn't relish the idea of having their kids home for weeks or months on in, in the middle of winter. Additionally, it was easier to heat a school house in the winter than it was to cool it off in the summer heat. It plenty of places, Japan included, it gets very hot for most of the summer and without air conditioning, the school buildings got very hot, making it quite difficult for students to concentrate and learn anything. That's also why schools in the southern hemisphere also generally start in the end of their summer.

Viva la sens commun!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Very disappointed by this retrograde step. Education is becoming increasingly global, and the idea of undergrad or postgrad study elsewhere is approaching the norm rather the exception.

As evidenced by the Galapagos syndrome in cellphones, Japan really needs to align its processes and thinking with the rest of the world to not just scale its business potential, but even sustain current levels.

The era of 'make it and they will buy' died with the dawn of digital, which has already left giant brands hemorrhaging cash, and the lesser ones dead. If Japan cannot sync its own needs with other countries, it cannot empathize with its overseas customers. No empathy = no honey, sweetheart.

Once again, in the face of tremendous opportunities, Japan is crying 'leave me alone', and hiding under the ever-thinning futon, pretending not to hear the revving engines of the world outside its uninsulated walls.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

CH3CHO: Really? I studied in Michigan, USA as a graduate student for two years. Everyone graduated in May.

Really? It was some time ago so I can't remember the exact date of my brother's graduation but it was in December, at the University of Michigan. The 2013 winter commencement at the University of Michigan will be held on December 15th, Michigan State's will be December 20th, Northern Michigan University's will be December 14th and well, you get the point.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Typical enlightened comments from people looking for an excuse to put the hate on Japan. Lots of interesting vocab used to describe "the Japanese."

From "backward" to "racist," and everything in between, no axe must be left unground. What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, university calendars.

Lol

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

What is the fuss about really? It would mean some free time from when one finishes uni at home to when one starts in Japan, no? I had the opportunity of a scholarship and it was great because I could have finished the year in my country in June, get all results and stuff and have enough time to prepare for Japan while all my friends are head over heels preparing for February exams (and therefore I could have also taken the first semester in my country! Missing only 1 semester!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jforce, so I should understand that you graduated from Todai and you know for sure it's a joke? Including the science department? Let me tell you that you have no idea what you are talking about. The undergraduate curriculum, at least for science, is very tough. The graduate school focuses mostly on research. As undergraduate, you cannot graduate in less than 4 years, at least not at Todai (some other universities allow you to).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

**4 terms, 2 months each....

That doesn't sound too good either. Does this mean students starting in April will have end-of-term tests in May? How awkward.**

As a teacher, I think it sounds great. Start the first week in March, have to eight week terms with a week or two off in between and finish in June. Actually gives a decent summer holiday so we all don't continue to sweat to death in the summer and watch the students drop like flies in the rainny season like they are today. The could also learn to get summer jobs, go traveling, study abroad... and give the teachers a long break to plan things. Go back in Sept, eight week, break, eight weeks. That makes us done before the new year so they don't have a damn holiday for three weeks and then one class and then tests - stupidest calendar I have ever seen! I'd be more than happy for that system - even happier if they stopped insisting on 15 weeks and followed the usual 12/13 weeks like most countries but that'd be pushing it I fear.

And ALL of the unis I went to had grads different times of year - Spring and fall being the usual. Japan does not offer this. Heck, Japan doesn't really even allow PT students so...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Many US universities have mastered the concept of entering at the beginning of any quarter or semester (depending on their system) and graduating at the end of any quarter or semester. CH3CHO, ambrosia's brother, and Abe's children can start school in June, September, or December and graduate in June, September, or December if they so wish.

I believe even Mombusho will be able to figure out this complicated system given a few committee meetings and time.

Also,

four-semester plan

This is usually, in American English anyway, called "The quarter system" and it usually consists of three months ~ (June, July, and August is a quarter that many students skip.) ~ since 'semester,' from the Latin semestris, means "six months."

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Whatever. Whoever thought Japan could be progressive and think in new ways is a fool. This nation has less and less to offer as the years pass and the oldies with their even older mentality, take over.

It is an interesting sign that a "prestigious" university like Todai cannot take action and try to lead but are so in desperate nesed of consensus that they are paralyzed when it come to taking action. Must be fun to teach there. With all the abounding progressiveness, I mean. Whatever, who in their right mind (unless they are have some reason to learn Japanese ir the love of Japan is unusually strong) would study at any Japanese university? What would be the point? Nah, keep it up, Nippon. Keep up the shimagunikonjo, keep the Status Quo.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Would it make sense to move the start of the University's academic year to September/October if the high schools, junior HS, and elementary schools do not follow? The administration would also be a major headache, contracts starting and ending in the middle of fiscal years....

Why bother? Just because others do it? Copying the system in other countries is considered progressive???

I hope all those who are whining about Japan not being progressive do not come from a country that has yet to go metric....

-15 ( +6 / -21 )

ambrosia, borscht, thank you. It was more than 20 years ago that I studied there. So, things may have been changed a lot since then. At least, the school I attended still has only 1 commencement exercise on May 2 in 1 year.

http://www2.bus.umich.edu/MyiMpact/academics/academic-calendar

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Nice try. Good plan B.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"four terms of two months each"

Sounds good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why bother?

Because it was going to help crack the old boys notions of hiring season, job hunting and when students are allowed to graduate.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I work in HR for a Japanese IT company and we will have two start times this year Oct 2013 and April 2014. This will be our first Oct. hire group so it will be intersting to see how it goes. As I attend job fairs and interact with the students many of the international students are pleased we are hiring in Oct and also April as some finish school in May, June and August and even some in September. We started the Oct. hire period so we could get these type of international students and also be able to reach those students both Japanese and International students that graduate from universities abroad.

Also on another note, some Japanese companies are starting to not just ONLY hire Taro but look at Mike because Taro lacks the drive and skills the international students have. As I interview Japanese students and compare them with the international students their drive and maturity level is very different. It is like night and day when you interview them especially the men. The only thing that is killing international students are those who move onto graduate degrees (Masters or Phds) is their age. If you are 27 pushing it but you might be ok to get a job, 28 with no experience...hmmm maybe no 29 or 30..forget it! Also Japanese companies could careless if you have a Masters or Phd. Most companies look this as someone (usually Japanese students) who couldn't find a job during their Junior year, so they went onto grad school. So my advice for international students who want to work in Japan for Japanese companies, be very careful in selecting your major and don't just chase the free money the gov't is throwing at you to get your Phd, it might come back to haunt you when you are looking for work. If you want to teach or do research then go for it!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As I sit and type this morning my older two kids are in their last school day of the year here in their American school. It is June 20th. They go back to school on September 10th, in nearly 3 months time!!! What on earth am I going to do with them for three whole months??!! Poor kids are going to be subjected to my homeschooling! I dont really care whether Japan starts school in April or October - as many people have pointed out students cant come and study without high levels of J language anyway, and for what purpose? Japan wants Taro, not Mike. But I DO miss the 4-5 week Summer holiday there! 3 months is just ridiculous! oh, of course, there is always Summer school. Can anyone lend me the best part of $1000 per child to pay for it??! Japan is frustrating in a lot of ways, but I kind of liked their school system in terms of holidays and school year starts. if they want to change anything it should be the one-chance-and-if-you-crap-up-first-time-you-have-had-it system of exams, the easy-ride-to-graduation universities and the mass-job-hunting-graduate-hiring scramble for jobs "recruit-suit" season. I would dearly love for J companies to be seeking forward thinking out of the box-types but as someone rightly pointed out, free-thinking = uncontrollable, unmanipulable (is that even a word?!) in a J HR managers books. So I wont be holding my breath for that.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This is why Japan is losing to Korea. Korean universities have adopted the western system and even teach many of their courses in English, undergrad or grad. The idea is that the international students who have to be good in English to take courses in English will be coming to Korea for 2 or 4 years. They may decide to stay and work for Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai or other companies. The students have lived in the culture so know the culture so they fit in better. Now if the company want to expand in those recruits home country, they have a supply of talent at hand. Korean Universities are getting students from all over and especially Asia. Common language...English.

Todai should have had more guts and just did it. It would have been the best thing for the future of Japan. No guts, no glory.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What on earth am I going to do with them for three whole months??!!

I don't know their ages, but my advice: Let them go outside and play, explore, hang out with their friends, soak in the glorious weather, discover the outdoors, swim, camp.

Summer holidays for kids are a magic, golden opportunity . Whatever you do, don't lock them up indoors for "homeschooling" or whatever.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

CH3CHO: ambrosia, borscht, thank you. It was more than 20 years ago that I studied there. So, things may have been changed a lot since then. At least, the school I attended still has only 1 commencement exercise on May 2 in 1 year.

I don't know what school you went to and it may be that it was simply too small to have had enough students to have merited more than one commencement ceremony per year but the reality is that the major universities of Michigan have had winter commencements since at least the late 50s.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It was more than 20 years ago that I studied there. So, things may have been changed a lot since then. At least, the school I attended still has only 1 commencement exercise on May 2 in 1 year.

It's well-established that university students in schools across the US can and do graduate at the completion of their studies at any time throughout the year, be it at the end of the Spring, Summer, or Fall school terms. While the majority of students do indeed tend to graduate at the end of the Spring term, anywhere from late May to late June depending on the university, this is more due to social habit and convention than because of any established rules.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

ChibaChick: What on earth am I going to do with them for three whole months??!!

I don't know where you're living but I'm assuming it's somewhere relatively warm as all of my nieces and nephews scattered across the midwest are getting only 6 or 7 weeks of summer holiday this year due to having had so many snow days over the past winter. Like Jeff said though, just let them play! Keep them off the computer unless it's to do extra school activities. My brother and his wife live in a school district that has great computer learning programs for the kids. They do the work at home and love it! Otherwise, they're outside playing, using their bodies and their imaginations. My brother is a teacher so when he's not in mandatory training programs he spends time taking them to the library, coffee shops where they have to bring a book and read, lakes, the Y, hiking and biking trails, the zoo (season passes are usually cheap), fishing, art and science museums, teaching them to cook, clean, do laundry and so on. Yes, it requires him to be active too but it also means he gets to spend valuable time with his kids, he sets a good example for them in terms of being active and he stays fit too. Additionally, he's got two young boys who are reading at levels well ahead of most of their peers and who actually love reading. When they're old enough they'll be expected to get summer jobs, the pay for which will be used to help pay for their college tuition. He's raising them in a remarkably similar way to how my siblings and I were raised and I admire him for it. They're lovely boys and are surely going to grow up to be active, engaged, independent adults. Enjoy them and your time with them while you can because soon enough they're probably going to want nothing more than to get away from you, at least for a while. Summer holidays shouldn't be a time that you dread and it's sad if you do but you can change that.

If your kids are going to public schools, many offer scholarships or assistance if you qualify. The same goes for summer camps.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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