Graduate programs in Japan to be modernized?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that graduate programs in Japan will be modernized (NOTE: link may require subscription) through a “a five-year reform plan.” Apparently, this “will release graduate students from a system that requires them to serve almost as apprentices did in feudal times, and instead will encourage them to conduct more original research.” Wow, all that in just five years! And will they clean up the dorms and student-run facilities as well?

First of all, who decided that medieval apprenticeship systems deserved all this criticism, anyway? What is this, the Meiji Restoration? Was it the Ministry of Education, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that bloated bureacracies justify political “reform” with historical revisionism. No, not surprising at all.

Second, would MEXT be willing to have a go at some American graduate programs? Any ministry that can cram public schools, sumo, nuclear energy, and keitai research under one umbrella ought to be able to handle at least one more major portfolio. Lets go ahead and make it the California state universities to keep things simple.

I was also struck by the similarity between the passage below, which describes the problems in the system, and amorous descriptions of how the traditional arts in Japan famously function (which can be found in just about any Japanophilic publication out there):

The concept was that students, as young researchers, learned by watching professors conduct research; students were discouraged from conducting their own research.

You know what this means, don’t you? Either MEXT is soon going to attack ceramics, the performing arts, and all the other traditional practices that still employ these pedagogies, OR, MEXT will officially recognize academia as a traditional art and set up a system of living national treasures. Yoshida Nobuyuki, ningen kokuho.


  1. Nice, snide post. Aren’t the ‘living treasures’ already called ’emeritus professorships’? They just haven’t been nationalized yet.

  2. Technically, I think this post is both snitty and snide. It’s the end of the semester and I am buried under grading, which may make my tolerance for exuberant government-speak even lower than usual. If only we could all be emeritus professors/ningen kokuho.

  3. I thought it was suitably snarky.

    I’ve often said that the academy is one of the last bastions of pure medievalism in American life (both Scholasticism and feudalism), but the more I look at “modernizing reforms” the more nostalgic I get….

  4. I applaud the effort to reduce somewhat the huge burden of busy work that graduate students have to perform for their professors. I know how much this troubled some of my friends. I’m puzzled that they seem to be concerned that their students are not producing enough research. Japanese PhD students in history often have 3 articles (at least 2) published in journals of one kind or another by the time they graduate (even if they sometimes “graduate” without finishing their dissertation). What percentage of US PhD students can claim this? Conference papers perhaps, but 3 published journal articles for humanities students?

  5. journals of one kind or another….

    I’ve always been struck by the plethora of in-house journals published at mid-sized universities in Japan. It seems to me that on-line publication ought to lower the cost bar enough that it should become more prevalent here, too. Then the pressure to publish will be even more relentless…

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