In 1992 there were 2.05 million 18-year-olds in Japan. Due to the drop in the birth rate there are 1.3 million today. There is now a university place for every 18-year-old who wants one but since just over 40 percent go on to tertiary education that leaves a lot of empty chairs in a lot of expensively air-conditioned classrooms. MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, estimates that around 46 percent of Japan`s 595 private universities are missing their recruitment targets and around 40 percent are in debt. Small colleges, in particular tandai (two-year colleges), are closing or amalgamating. The word from colleagues even at higher level universities is that they are lowering entrance standards in order to attract enough students.
How is it playing out at my university? A few weeks ago, we held our first round of entrance tests and interviews. 29 lecturers were called in to work on a Saturday (tasty obento provided, see above) to test 17 high school students. In a room which seats 144, I and a colleague invigilated a 30-minute entrance examination for three students who were interested (hopefully) in attending our college`s tandai.
Last weekend, I and a colleague interviewed 9 students (6 colleagues interviewed a further 28). They had to read a paragraph in english and answer one question about it. Not a single student could answer the question correctly, nor could they adequately answer other simple questions that I put to them. What the hell are students studying for 6 years in their compulsory junior and senior high school english-language classes? The sad thing is, on their shibo douki (the part of their application on which they write their hopes for the future) most wrote that they want to work for travel companies or as english-language teachers. (Last year it was hotel staff and flight attendants but since then JAL`s gone into the red and the strong Yen has emptied the international hotels of foreign tourists). Moreover they were well prepared for the Japanese-language part of their interviews with many reciting answers that they had obviously memorised in advance. They seemed to have motivation but were let down by the poor level of education they had received.
Will they get a place at our university? What do you think? And even more importantly for us, will they accept it?