Japanese reforms win OECD praise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 March, 2009, 12:00am

Japan has made significant progress in modernising its higher education system over the past five years, an OECD review has found.

But 'powerful cultural forces' within the academic community could undermine this progress and further reforms are needed to address social and economic pressures, according to the Review of Tertiary Education in Japan.

The report, one of 24 commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the higher education systems of its affluent member countries, examined the effects of reforms carried out in 2004 that gave more autonomy to Japanese universities in an attempt to make them more internationally competitive.

The report concluded that the reforms were a 'major step forward' that had succeeded in jolting national universities out of their 'perceived complacency and inertia' but cautioned that it was crucial to 'embed' the changes within universities to prevent them being undermined.

'There remain powerful cultural forces within the academic community which could render this change temporary unless the changes are embedded within the universities' own structures and management,' it states.

Steps taken to increase the autonomy of national universities included giving them freedom to manage the allocation of resources.

Other moves included staffing and internal administration, greater flexibility in setting budgets, and new incentives to increase external income from teaching and research.

'Viewed in international terms, Japanese national institutions continue to exercise less strategic initiative with respect to hiring and setting wages, reallocating resources and exploiting investment opportunities than do comparable universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands,' the report states.