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Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004

Limited-term foreign professors seen cornering workload but not benefits


Staff writer

OSAKA -- A nationwide survey of foreign professors in Japan reveals that those who do the most work are younger, less experienced teachers either on limited term or part-time contracts, rather than tenured professors.

The survey also found that nearly a third of all such professors are not covered by public pension programs because of either a lack of information on the plan or a feeling that they will not be in Japan long enough to collect benefits, and that many of them have no health insurance.

The Tokyo-based University Teachers' Union, an affiliate of the National Union of General Workers, conducted the survey earlier this year among 1,500 foreign professors. There were 330 responses, more than half of which were from North American teachers, followed by Europeans.

Three groups of professors and teaching staff were surveyed -- those with tenure (26.3 percent of the respondents), part-timers (45.4 percent) and limited-term professors without tenure (28.1 percent). Both public and private universities were covered.

On average, the study found that universities tend to hire older professors for the tenured and part-time groups, and younger professors for the limited-term group.

The average age of tenured professors was 48.3, and 44.7 for part-time instructors, but only 38.7 for limited-term instructors.

Further, it is these limited-term instructors and their part-time counterparts -- many of whom are in Japan on one-year contracts, have no guarantee of tenure and make less money than their tenured counterparts -- who do the bulk of the work, teaching more classes than tenured professors.

According to the survey, a tenured foreign teacher has an average of 7.5 courses per semester, as opposed to nine courses on average for a limited-term teacher and 12.5 courses for a part-timer.

But whereas tenured professors have worked at their universities for nearly 10 years on average, limited-term and part-time teachers have worked there for only around five years.

"Universities appear to be employing (limited term and part-time) instructors less to improve education than to save on labor costs. For limited-term positions, the data lead to the conclusion that universities are making deliberate efforts to employ younger, less-experienced instructors whom they then quickly replace within five years," the study said.

Stephanie Houghton, a foreign professor in Fukuoka who met with members of the Democratic Party of Japan last week to discuss the issue, points out that before the public university system was reformed in April, even tenured foreign professors were unable to become dean or president of their institutions.

"This is the main reason, I think, that term and age limits on foreign teachers are a matter of conscious national policy as opposed to being a social issue," Houghton said.

"The problem arising is that the universities become afflicted with a kind of Peter Pan syndrome when it comes to foreign teachers," according to the professor. Those who are hired are often initially young and are replaced a few years later with another young teacher, so that all the university sees is a succession of younger faces.

Both Houghton and Evan Heimlich, a foreign academic based in Kobe, say the practices by many universities of hiring foreign teachers mainly on limited-term or part-time contracts may violate the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

"Since 1996, when Japan promised it would abide by the CERD treaty, many foreigners have had reason to expect much fairer treatment here," Heimlich said.

"I think much overlap may be found between the employment of Japanese women and foreigners. Indeed, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (is concerned about) this overlap. This makes sense since prejudice often extends to more than one stigmatized group," Houghton said.

The union survey also showed many foreign teachers are not covered by public welfare programs.

A little more than 30 percent of all respondents said they were not covered by the Japanese public health insurance system. The ratio increased to more than 40 percent among part-time teachers, and 6.7 percent of all respondents said they have no health insurance at all.

As for pensions, nearly a third said they are not covered by any pension plan.

While 90.5 percent of the tenured professors said they are in university or national pension schemes, the figure was 63.8 percent for limited-term professors, and only 16.3 percent for part-timers.

"Foreign instructors often feel the pension issue places them in a double bind. If they stay in Japan and pay into the system, they generally cannot reach the required number of years necessary to receive full benefits," the study said. "But only a few teachers ever reach tenured status, which would give them the necessary number of years. If, on the other hand, instructors leave Japan before they qualify, they forfeit their right to all but three years of the money they have paid toward their pensions."



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