Government To Help Young Researchers

The government plans to support young researchers who hope to study abroad by covering their travel and accommodation expenses, government sources said.

Under a five-year program, 15,000 to 30,000 young researchers and graduate students will attend universities and research institutes overseas for several months to one year.

To fund the program, the government plans to incorporate 30 billion yen into a supplementary budget for fiscal 2009.

While studying abroad in unfamiliar surroundings is usually a valuable and galvanizing experience for young researchers, there is a strong tendency for them to stay in the nation as there is no guarantee that they can obtain stable employment after returning to Japan, and the comfortable research environments here offer a powerful inducement for them to stay put.

The number of researchers staying abroad for more than one month has been on the decline after peaking at 7,674 in fiscal 2000.

End Of The Education Gold Rush

Up until the onset of the world financial crisis, selling higher education to foreign students had become the new global gold rush for universities across the developed countries. Whereas 600,000 students went abroad to study for their degrees in 1975, by 2000 the number had hit 1.8 million, five years later it reached 2.7 million. This year, the number may even pass the three million mark - a 66% rise in less than a decade - unless, that is, the gold rush is about to end.

If it does, it will not be just the wealthy western countries that will suffer. As the international education export market grew, so did the capacity of old and new education exporting countries to attract international students. At the same time, countries such as India and China began providing for their own students who traditionally looked abroad for higher education.

In recent years, US universities used their international standing to deliver more courses through joint or dual degree programmes and through overseas-based campuses. Cornell, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Michigan State and Georgia Tech were among the big names that other countries with overseas campuses had to compete with.

The US institutions were joined by British universities in booming markets such as India, China, Singapore and the Middle East. Last year, the Canadian government mounted a $2 million challenge to other nations' international education enrolments from China and India.

As part of the Canadian government's strategic focus on these countries, a pan-Canadian education brand was launched at the world's largest international education conference in Washington DC last May.

At the same time, countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia had started building the domestic infrastructure to service more of the needs of their own students. The dominant countries in the education export market also faced increasing moves by competitors to deliver courses in English in traditionally non-English speaking countries, such as Japan, Korea, Germany and Scandinavia.

The Korean government began a campaign to raise the English level of all Koreans, starting at pre-school. Under the Brain Korea 21 or BK 21 project, institutions were encouraged - and funded in some cases - to offer more courses in English, more study abroad or exchange programmes, dual and joint degrees or articulation courses with overseas institutions to keep their young people at home.

The big question confronting all countries involved in exporting education, however, is how the financial and economic crises will impact on the global movement of students. Nations such as Australia, which now earns more than $14 billion a year (US$10 billion) from selling education to foreigners, has yet to see any sign of an expected fall-off in enrolments.

And Australia has the highest proportion of foreign students in its higher education system than any other country - with more than 19% according to the OECD. By comparison the OECD average is barely above 7%.

Yet the US Chronicle of Higher Education has suggested Australia might be losing its place. The paper reported last week that universities in Asia were facing hefty declines in enrolments of South Koreans. With the Korean currency dropping sharply, its students have found the cost of living abroad has doubled.

What effect this will have on US institutions is not yet clear although, as the Chronicle noted, South Korea remains a hugely important market for American universities which enrolled 70,000 students in the autumn of 2007, up 11% from the previous year.

"The country is an equally important source of students for many universities in Asia. The number of South Korean undergraduates studying in universities in Beijing and Shanghai is down by as much as 50% on some campuses, according to Chinese state media," the Chronicle noted.

"And undergraduate enrolments at some private Japanese universities have plunged to almost zero, forcing the institutions to take emergency measures, including deferring tuition and seeking government assistance. Enrolments are also reportedly down at universities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, as thousands of South Korean students struggle to deal with the fallout from their country's violent currency fluctuations."

Australian universities, however, are not reliant on Korean students to anywhere the same extent as some US institutions, whereas those from China comprise by far the largest number of any from other nations.

Just as is the case with its importing of Australian raw materials, China will be the key to the financial well-being of many Australian universities which have become increasingly reliant on fees from Chinese students to bolster their declining revenues from other sources.

One reason for that is the fall in the value of the Australian dollar against the US greenback and the euro although how long that effect will last is uncertain. Equally uncertain is the future of the international gold rush in exporting education to other countries.

Bar Risen Jobs At Law School

In April 2004, 68 law schools were established in accordance with the nation's legal reform. Since then, the number has increased to 74. Earlier this month, about 5,800 people enrolled in these schools. Those who have not studied law at undergraduate level will have to complete a three-year course and those who did, a two-year course.

These schools were created to help satisfy a national demand for legal professionals who can provide high-quality services, in particular lawyers. But criticism persists that some of these schools fail to offer high-quality education.

The Japan Law Foundation, the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation and the Japan University Accreditation Association have recently evaluated 68 of the law schools and determined that 22 of them have problems with their curricula and teaching methods.

Problems identified include a shortage of basic subjects, a lack of balance between theoretical studies and practical application, a lack of transparency in the evaluation of students' performances in tests and under-qualified teachers.

The result of the third state bar exam under the legal reform held in 2008 highlights the under-performance of some of these law schools. While 6,261 graduates sat for the exam, only 2,065 of them — 33 percent of the applicants — passed. This is less than the Justice Ministry's target of 2,100 to 2,500 successful applicants and the first time the pass rate has fallen below 40 percent. In 2007, 1,125 students also failed to complete the required courses.

The basic problem with the law schools seems clear. Some of the students they accepted were likely not qualified to study law, and some universities may have rushed to open law schools in a bid to raise their reputation or to bring in more tuition fees.

A special panel of the Central Council for Education has proposed setting a minimal level for entrance-exam scores and reducing the student quota at law schools where the competition for the entrance is less severe. Each law school also needs to review and rectify its weak points, and some should consider reducing the number of students they accept.

Less Children WIth Newly Opened School

Nine years after it closed, a primary school on remote Tobishima island in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, has reopened for two children whose father recently moved to the island to start a home visit care business.

Earlier this month, Yasukazu Shibuya, 10, a fifth-grader, and his sister, Masaki, 8, a third-grader, attended the opening ceremony of the municipally run Tobishima Primary School.

The school is bucking the trend of schools that have had to close due to a lack of students. "I can't recall any other school that has reopened after closing," said an official of the Yamagata Prefectural Board of Education's general affairs section.

Yasukazu and Masaki are enthusiastic about their new school.

"I want to know all about Tobishima and learn as much as I can from the islanders" Yasukazu said.

Masaki said she had looked forward to hitting the books. "I'll have science and social studies classes. I want to learn lots of things from my teacher," she said.

The school's staff outnumbers the students two to one. Besides school Principal Makoto Funakoshi, it has a vice principal, homeroom teacher and nursing care assistant.

At the opening ceremony on April 6, Funakoshi indicated he was aware of the significance of the school's revival. "We'll do our very best to write a new chapter in our island's history," he said.

Local residents also counted the days until the school reopened and they are pleased to hear the children's cheery greetings every morning.

"There's a buzz around the island again," said Katsuichi Sato, the community head of the Nakamura district in which the school is located.

The school was established in 1876 and its student body peaked at 291 in 1946. After that, however, the falling birthrate coupled with an exodus of people from the island saw the student population dwindle to nothing.

Tobishima Middle School, which shared the same building as the primary school, also closed after its last student graduated in March 2003. The school grounds then were used only by primary schools in Sakata for field trips in early summer.

Homeroom teacher Shinji Nunokawa, 28, is excited about the opportunities for education waiting to be tapped on the island.

"The entire island is like a school, so we'll offer lessons that are only possible on Tobishima," he said.

Three ryokan on the island will share the responsibility of preparing and delivering the children's lunches.

Masako Sawaguchi, 57, the proprietress of one of the ryokan, said, "I'll make a special effort when I prepare the lunches so the children can grow up strong and healthy."

The school song, which the two children sang at the opening ceremony, was last heard just before the school closed in April 2000.

"It's been a long time since I heard the school song," said Yoshikazu Sawaguchi, the head of Tobishima's tourism council.

About 10 schools from Sakata will go on nature excursions to Tobishima in May and July. The Shibuyas will join some of the visiting students on these excursions.

And if the principal gets his way, these exchanges will be just the beginning.

"I want to increase the chances [for students] to interact with the locals while learning about living on the island and studying its nature," Funakoshi said.