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Sunday, July 17, 2011
Cherry blossoms have long accompanied the start of the school year in Japan, but that may soon change to autumn leaves. The University of Tokyo is looking into the possibility of beginning its school year in the fall rather than spring. If adopted, the change, which would likely be followed by other universities, would put Japan in line with the rest of the world in a practical and sensible way.
First of all, this change would encourage Japanese students to study abroad. At present, many students are reluctant to study overseas for the simple reason that it puts them out of step with their peers, since Japan's semester schedule fits almost no other country.
The shift would also facilitate foreign students coming to Japan. Aligning Japan's university schedule with others would allow a smooth exchange rather than the current scheduling nightmare.
Japan desperately needs to increase such exchanges. The goal of creating international campuses is one that must be taken seriously. Despite the many problems of when to make the change and how, the benefits extend beyond increasing the chances for young people to learn from other cultures and languages.
One of the prime benefits of autumn admissions would be a late spring graduation. The time between graduation in May or June and the start of the working year on the following April 1 could be put to good use.
Those months would be an excellent opportunity for students to undertake internships, volunteer activities, preparation for specialized exams or classes leading to certification in areas like teaching. It would also take some pressure off and give them a chance to do one thing at a time.
Currently, fourth-year university students are so divided, perhaps "exhausted" is a better word, by the pressures of simultaneously finishing their studies and finding a job that they cannot do either one well.
If students started job hunting after graduation in early summer, they would be able to actually complete their university studies and then focus on job hunting.
Supporting students for those few months would be a serious burden on many families, and businesses and the government would need to cooperate, but adjusting the schedule would benefit all.
Students could study, businesses could hire better prepared students, and universities could take another step toward internationalized education.
The University of Tokyo should take the lead in this positive change and other universities should quickly follow suit.