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Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
Universities feel the squeeze
Since national universities became independent administrative agencies in 2004, their financial conditions have weakened. In accordance with the Koizumi administration's 2006 decision, government grants to pay for national universities' ordinary outlays have declined 1 percent annually.
Before this trend reaches a point where it threatens to cause irreparable damage to Japan's universities, the government should increase spending. The state finances guideline adopted by the Kan Cabinet on June 22 has shaken university officials and teachers. It calls for reducing grants for management of national universities and for ordinary management and research activities at private universities by 8 percent, or ¥1 trillion, annually for three years.
This decision came at a time when other Asian countries like China and South Korea are ramping up investment in universities. Meanwhile, Japan's budget for higher education has not risen for the past five years. Japan is clearly lagging behind other countries in its efforts to nurture high-quality human resources. Since 2004, the number of Japanese students joining doctorate courses has declined some 20 percent.
In fiscal 2010, the government provided grants worth ¥1.158 trillion to pay for ordinary outlays at national universities. Such grants have been slashed by ¥83 billion in total since fiscal 2004. The teaching and clerical burden of university teachers is increasing.
Public spending for higher education institutions accounts for 1 percent of gross domestic product on average for member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The corresponding figure for Japan, however, is just 0.5 percent — the lowest among OECD countries. Although around 50 percent of high school graduates in Japan attend universities, both South Korea and Thailand boast higher rates.
The government should realize that an investment in universities is an investment in Japan's future. It should also remember that universities have a beneficial economic and intellectual impact upon the towns and cities where they are located.