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Remaking Universities: Continuing Reform of Higher Education
Chapter 2 How Universities Are Changing
Section 1. What People Study at Universities
1. Changes in University Classes

University education must respond to rapid social changes, including progress in scientific research and technological innovation, internationalization, and the shift to an information-oriented society, in order to develop human resources capable of excelling in various fields and to equip people with the skills they need to cope with social change and advances in science and technology. Universities also need to work actively to reform various aspects of their educational activities, including course content and teaching methods, in order to enhance their ability to cope with the growing need for lifelong learning and with the diversification of students due to such factors as the increasing percentage of students continuing to higher education in recent years.

In January 1995 MESSC commissioned a private research organization to carry out a survey ( see pages 22-27) in which undergraduate students were asked to state the changes they would like to see in university education. The most common response was the improvement and enrichment of curricula. This indicates students' strong desire for improved university classes. Recent developments, including the systemic reforms described in chapter 1 , have prompted universities to implement the following reforms according to their educational philosophies.

(1) Development of Integrated Curricula

University curricula should be structured to enhance overall educational benefits through the provision of four-year (or six-year) programs consisting of courses that are systematically and organically linked. But the Standards for the Establishment of Universities necessitated the division of subject categories, such as general education and specialized education, and the specification of detailed requirements concerning the number of credits to be earned in each category. Because of this and other factors, many universities divided courses according to subject categories, with the result that administrators and faculty designed and taught courses independently from one another. University education was divided into general education (the first two years) and specialized education (the last two years), and it was not always possible to achieve adequate coordination of the two.

This approach was criticized for failing to implement the philosophy and purpose of general education, which should be to use scholarship to impart a broad range of knowledge while fostering judgment and the ability to think independently and comprehensively. Even worse, the content of general education curricula was seen to be reducing the scholastic motivation of new university students by simply reiterating the content of upper secondary education.

To remedy this situation, the Government amended the Standards for the Establishment of Universities in 1991 on the basis of reports by the University Council. The distinctions among subject categories were abolished, and a new provision was added requiring universities to give due consideration in structuring their educational programs to enrich human development by providing deep, broad-based education in the liberal arts and by instilling comprehensive judgment skills in addition to teaching specialized knowledge in major subjects.

Since then universities have made rapid progress in curriculum reform. In particular, an increasing number of universities are formulating integrated four-year (or six-year) curricula designed to develop human resources that combine high intellectual abilities, comprehensive judgmental skills, and well-rounded personalities through the organic linkage of general and specialized education. Since the 1991 amendment of the Standards for the Establishment of Universities 375 universities have implemented curriculum reforms. If the number of universities planning reforms is included, the total rises to 458, or approximately 83% of all universities ( Figure2.1 ).

There are various approaches to the implementation of an integrated and systematic four-year (or six-year) curriculum. One common method is to respond to students' intellectual curiosity by bringing them into contact with major subjects in their first and second years. Another approach that is frequently used focuses on the achievement of an organic linkage between general and specialized education. This is achieved through the establishment of courses designed to foster understanding of the benefits of study in major subject fields and the implications for humanity and society from a variety of perspectives. These courses are designed to be offered after the completion of basic education in major subject fields.

Figre 2.1.Progress in Curriculum Reform

(2) Establishment of New Courses

The curriculum reform process has also started to affect courses. One key feature of this trend is the increasing number of courses that cross traditional academic boundaries. As of fiscal 1994, 260 universities had introduced interdisciplinary courses - about two and a half times the fiscal 1992 figure. Specifically, some universities are offering interdisciplinary courses on a wide range of modern themes, such as "culture and exchange," "the environment and people," and "awareness of nature." Others are seeking to foster a balanced mix of intellect and other human characteristics by offering courses in such categories as "human education."

These innovations are significant attempts to respond to a number of changes, including the expanding range of fields in which interdisciplinary research is needed because of advances in scientific research, and to respond to the need to acquire a wide range of knowledge across traditional academic boundaries in order to deal appropriately with the issues confronting our increasingly complex modern society.

More and more universities are establishing highly original and diversified courses. These include the use of the seminar format, which enables small groups of students to participate in discussion of specific themes, and the establishment of courses that employ outside experts to provide information about the latest research in a way that non-major students can readily understand. In addition, specialized education is today more likely to include courses designed to provide an overview of specialized fields or to raise awareness of contemporary issues in those fields.

Another feature of present trends is the increasing number of universities offering courses that involve volunteer activities. By fiscal 1993, 63 universities had established courses involving volunteer activities. These range from programs in which volunteer activities are treated as part of the course to those that incorporate practical training in welfare and nursing.

(3) Enhancement of Foreign Language Education

Globalization is occurring at all levels of society. From now on it will be important to build relationships on the individual level based on understanding of foreign cultures and mutual respect. Foreign language education must be enhanced as the basis for such relationships.

Universities are increasingly giving high priority to foreign language education. By fiscal 1994, 305 universities, more than half the universities in Japan, had implemented reforms in foreign language education. The most common change was the use of language laboratories and video technology (69.2%), followed by the division of courses into classes in such categories as conversation, composition, and speed reading (61.6%), the introduction of small classes of 20 students or fewer (54.1%), and the introduction of classes for different levels of ability (35.4%). Some universities have shown great enthusiasm, tailoring classes according to purpose or ability, reducing class size, and using language laboratories and video technology; increasing the number of class hours devoted to foreign language teaching; and establishing diversified foreign language courses, such as courses in the languages of Japan's Asian neighbors.

(4) Promotion of Information Processing Education

The growing popularity of multimedia and other trends are moving Japan ever closer to an advanced information society. The development of information processing and utilization abilities through university education has thus become a vital priority.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of universities that have strengthened information processing education. By fiscal 1994, 218 universities, or approximately 40% of Japanese universities, had made education in information processing compulsory for all students. The number of universities with special classrooms dedicated to information processing education had risen to 440, or approximately 80% of the total.

Some universities and faculties have installed one computer per student and made computers available to students on a 24-hour basis. Some universities are also striving to develop practical information processing skills by allowing students to retrieve documents and other materials by computer and by opening up their campus information networks to enable reports and administrative messages to be sent by electronic mail.

(5) Provision of Diverse Study Opportunities

Universities are also working to provide students with opportunities to study a wide variety of subjects. Efforts in this area include the establishment of credit transfer systems through interuniversity tie-ups. The number of universities operating such systems has almost doubled since fiscal 1988, reaching 253, or approximately half of Japanese universities, in fiscal 1993. There is also considerable transfer of credits with the University of the Air and with foreign universities. The University of the Air accepted approximately 5,200 students from other universities in fiscal 1993.

In fiscal 1994 the University Center of Kyoto (Kyoto Daigaku Center) established a large-scale regional credit transfer system based on an agreement among 31 universities and junior colleges in Kyoto. Innovations include the opening up of courses, primarily to students enrolled in these educational institutions, and the approval of credits earned at those institutions so that students can benefit from courses that reflect the characteristics of the universities providing them. In addition, faculty members affiliated with various universities lecture on specific themes on a relay basis.

Under the 1991 amendment of the Standards for the Establishment of Universities, universities are also able to offer credit for study at educational institutions other than universities when it is deemed equivalent to coverage of a certain level of university study. As a result of this change, some students are now being awarded credits for studies at professional training colleges or for passing proficiency tests approved by the Minister of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, such as the Practical English Proficiency Test.

Small-group foreign language education at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

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