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From The Yomiuri Shimbun, 1 March 2003

Colleges must accept reforms

Yomiuri Shimbun

The Cabinet has finalized a package of bills aimed at transforming state-run colleges and universities into corporations. The legislative package represents an effort to reshape institutions of higher learning in the years ahead.

The bills will be submitted to the current Diet session. If adopted, the legislation will turn all national universities into corporate entities independent of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry in April 2004.

The envisaged bills will free colleges and universities from government controls so that they can draft their own budgets and carry out academic activities on their own. The bills will also ensure that people not directly associated with these institutions will play a role in making management decisions and selecting their presidents.

The radical shift from state control means that universities and colleges will lose government protection. The system will be replaced by a scheme to encourage institutions of higher learning to carry out activities at their own risk and compete for excellence.

These changes will signify a reform comparable to the start of a new system governing colleges and universities that was established after the end of World War II.

The colleges and universities should inform the public what they will seek to accomplish, while instituting measures to improve academic activities. Their failure to do this could mean large cuts in government subsidies under the envisaged laws.


Modification of early plan

At first, the plan was to help reduce the number of national government employees. However, this plan was later modified during discussions at the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, which decided to reinvent colleges and universities in what would amount to massive changes in their academic and other activities.

Initially, provincial state-managed colleges and universities strongly objected to the plan to turn them into corporations, a move that would deprive them of financial aid and other protection provided by the government to all national universities. However, they failed to win public support.

Some state-run colleges and universities have been slow to reform themselves. It is also unclear how they make decisions concerning their operations. Many educators at such institutions have been preoccupied with their own academic activities, and few are ready to play a role that would benefit society through their studies.

The objections raised by regional state-run colleges and universities had no effect on local governments and other entities that would be affected by the reform. This apparently shows that these local governments are unhappy about the management of
state-run universities. Educators, administrators and others at these educational institutions should take this to heart.

Already there are signs of change in this regard. Some universities have invited academics and others from outside to serve as presidents. They are also trying to promote various reforms, such as conducting studies aimed at encouraging the growth of regions that host them. Some universities are incorporating industrial-government-academic tie-ups into their activities.


Change in attitude needed

Incorporated colleges and universities will submit reports to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry detailing midterm goals and plans for their educational and academic activities once every six years. They will receive ministry subsidies on the
basis of how much effort they have made to achieve their targets.

In setting up goals and drawing up plans under the system, some state-run universities have brought together representatives from all sectors to discuss pertinent issues. This is unprecedented.

Although this kind of action must be encouraged, it also should be complemented by an effort to change the attitude educators and administrators have taken in reforming their institutions.

The success in turning state-run universities into corporations--or the lack of it--will be measured under a new system that will assess the effort of each institution in achieving its goal. As a result, measures should be taken as soon as possible to set fair and objective standards to assess this progress.

We hope these institutions of higher education will reform themselves from a long-term perspective, instead of seeking to make progress only over a short period.

The autonomy enjoyed by colleges and universities in the postwar years has often been used to defend their vested interests. However, the reform will force colleges and universities to engage in competition and their performances will be assessed.

Institutions of higher learning that attempt to remain autonomous must expect to reap the consequences of their actions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1)

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