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Thursday, Feb. 1, 2001
Colleges brace as fewer apply
No school exempt as declining birthrate hurts revenues
By YOKO HANI
Tadataka Koide, president of Aichi Gakuin University in Nagoya, is awaiting this month's entrance exams with anticipation and anxiety.
Like most colleges, applications for Koide's university, which has 12 courses in six departments, declined by 30 percent last year compared with the mid-'90s, reflecting the nation's dwindling birthrate.
To attract more students, the 47-year-old university will open two new courses in April that focus on industrial information and international management.
"In the coming years, universities, except several big-name schools, may have to recruit students instead of selecting them," Koide said.
"One of the keys (for universities to survive) will be whether we can offer more attractive courses that meet the needs of students and the current society," Koide speculated.
The sense of crisis is shared by top-notch universities such as 120-year-old Waseda, whose graduates include several prime ministers, including the current leader, Yoshiro Mori.
"I am not so conceited as to believe that Waseda University will survive any competition," Waseda President Takayasu Okushima said.
Okushima has taken the initiative by organizing a unit-exchange program with four other private universities in northwest Tokyo. The program will commence in April and will involve 70,000 students.
"Universities will fall together in time unless they clearly present differences and unique characters," he said. "This unit-exchange program is a good way for different universities to cooperate by making up what the others lack."
Universities have already entered an era of harsh competition, which is expected to worsen in 2009 when the number of 18-year-old applicants is estimated to equal university capacity.
Private universities, which account for 75 percent of the 650 universities in Japan, are expected to be particularly vulnerable.
Statistics suggest the population of 18 year olds will continue to decline -- 1.51 million in 2001 compared with 2.04 million 10 years ago -- while the percentage of students wanting to go on to higher education has shown no marked changes recently.
The number of universities, meanwhile, increased by about 80 over the past five years, fueling further competition in the future.
"It is possible, in five years, that several junior colleges or universities will be thrown into a situation that forces them to close," said Ikuo Amano, a professor at the Center for National University Finance, an affiliate of the education ministry.
In the 2000 academic year, 28 percent of the 471 private universities surveyed failed to meet their enrollment capacity, according to a report by the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan, an organization linked to the national government that provides private schools with subsidies and funds.
The figure jumped considerably from the 8 percent recorded the previous year.
The situation at junior colleges was even worse, with 58 percent of 453 schools falling below new-student capacity, according to the survey.
"As about 70 percent of private universities' revenues depend on tuition fees, it is obvious the shortage of students deals a serious blow to management," said Koji Kubo of the corporation.
Financial difficulties at universities have yet to become obvious, but the number of junior colleges has been declining in line with mergers of related universities.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said that 38 junior colleges were absorbed into related universities in the academic years of 1999 and 2000.
"The financial crisis has been put off so far, but will surface sooner or later" if universities and junior colleges fail to implement measures such as streamlining and outsourcing, Amano said.
Forming consortiums will be one option that will enable universities to share teaching staff from different fields, he said.
This emerging trend has been seen in areas other than Waseda's tieup with St. Paul's University, Gakushuin University, Gakushuin Women's College and Japan Women's University.
Twenty-eight universities and junior colleges in the Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture area, including Kitazato University and Obirin University, will launch joint classes in April to supplement their unit-exchange program.
In Kyoto, about 50 universities and junior colleges have formed a cooperative consortium that also includes the city of Kyoto and business circles.
Gregory Clark, president of Tama University, said Japanese universities should review the conventional idea of targeting 18-year-olds in light of the declining birthrate.
Clark was a member of the prime minister's National Commission on Educational Reform, which recommended establishing new graduate schools to produce specialists in areas such as law and business and to accept more adult students in higher education institutions.
He said Japanese universities should accept students from a wider cross section of society, including foreign students and businesspeople, while also focusing on postgraduate studies.
These market segments have not, however, been ignored by all institutions.
Hitotsubashi University in April will open a graduate school exclusively targeting businesspeople, based near Takebashi in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.
Hitotsubashi's Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy will offer two night courses and two day courses for about 60 students. The four courses include two MBA programs in financial strategy and international business strategy.
Keio Academic Enterprise Co., an academic business company linked to Keio University, is also offering unconventional services. It will start programs for businesspeople in May at Marunouchi City Campus -- a five-minute walk from JR Tokyo Station.
The city campus will offer practical programs such as business negotiations and social networking in small classes, according to the company.
"Adult education and professional education are becoming increasingly important," said Ken Senoh, executive vice president of the enterprise.
Senoh said his company is trying to make their services stand out from typical university extension programs.
Clark emphasizes that Japanese universities have to address problems stemming from the nation's dwindling birthrate promptly and effectively.
University bankruptcies are "inevitable unless something is changed very quickly," he said.