26 Japanese universities to abolish humanities, social sciences

Nearly half of the 60 national universities with humanities and social science faculties plan to abolish those departments in the 2016 academic year or later, according to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Conducted among presidents of national universities across the country, the survey found that 26 intended to eliminate these departments.

The universities will stop recruiting students for a combined total of at least 1,300 places, mainly in their teacher training faculties. Some of these slots will be allocated to newly established faculties.

The survey highlighted the wave of reform sweeping over humanities and social science faculties.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry issued a notice to national universities this June calling for their humanities and social science faculties to be abolished or converted to other fields.

The faculties it sought to have eliminated or converted included law and economics departments and teacher training faculties, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey among the presidents of all 86 national universities across the nation to ask about their faculty reform and abolition plans as of the end of July, and how they reacted to the education ministry's notice. The Yomiuri received responses from 81 universities.

Of the 60 universities with humanities and social science faculties, 58 responded to the survey and 26 said they had plans to abolish such faculties or convert them to other fields.

Of the 26 universities, 17 plan to stop recruiting students for these departments, which contain at least 1,300 students.

Many universities plan to abolish "no-certificate" courses that do not require students to obtain a teaching certificate in their teacher training faculty and allocate their existing quota to newly established faculties.

The University of Fukui has decided not to recruit students for the 2016 academic year for its regional science course, which is a no-certificate course in its faculty of education and regional studies. The course's quota of 60 students will be allotted to a new faculty for international and regional studies.

Shinshu University plans to stop recruiting students for two courses in its faculty of education, and convert its existing faculty of economics to a new one of law and economic studies.

Japanese universities are being forced to review their organisations from the ground up, due to the declining birthrate and severe international competition among universities.

Compared with the creation of new industries and technological innovations that stem from science and technology studies, it is difficult for humanities and social science studies to demonstrate tangible accomplishments.

Some in industrial circles criticise universities for not fostering personnel who enter the workplace with practical skills after graduation.

Opinions divided

These are the circumstances amid which the education ministry's notice was issued, a move that drew praise and criticism in the survey.

Niigata University said, "The study of humanities and social sciences is important in a university education, but it must be reviewed to ensure the quality of education."

However, Shiga University said, "Democracy cannot be preserved if the 'intellectual knowledge' of humanities and social science studies is cast aside."

Universities that said they have no plans to abolish or change organisations included the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and some single-department colleges such as Otaru University of Commerce.

Twenty-six universities have already stopped recruiting students for no-certificate courses, and six universities said they had not decided or were considering the matter.

The education ministry's notice also called for each university to choose one of three future targets - regional contribution, specialising in a certain field, and reaching a global standard of education - for the financial support they receive from the ministry from the 2016 academic year on.

The survey put this question to all 86 national universities, including those without humanities and social science faculties.

"Regional contribution" was chosen by 54 universities, "specialisation " by 12 and "reaching a global standard" by 15.