Backgrounder: Japanese University Humanities and Social Sciences Programs Under Attack

25 09 2015

Jeff Kingston has published a great explainer for those of you wondering what the heck is going on in Japanese universities. As Bloomberg and the Times Higher Education supplement have reported (here and here), Japan’s current Minister of Education, Shimomura Hakubun, appears to be intent on shuttering departments in law, economics, social science, and humanities at the country’s top research intensive universities so that resources can be focused on STEM subjects. In “Japanese University Humanities and Social Sciences Programs Under Attack” (The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 39, No. 1, September 28, 2015) Professor Kingston gives us some insight into the bureaucratic backstory related to the agenda of the  Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The following sentence appears to be a key one:

This anti-intellectual salvo from Prime Minister Abe’s government fits into a larger pattern of dumbing down education, whitewashing textbooks, promoting patriotic education and stifling dissent.

Professor Kingston is Director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan and author of Asian Nationalisms Since 1945 (Wiley 2016), editor of Asian Nationalism Reconsidered (Routledge 2015) and Press Freedom in Japan (Routledge 2016).

Over a thousand foreign academics, mostly in Europe and Israel, have signed an online petition calling on Minister Shimomura to reconsider his policies. You can access the petition here.

Update:  Japan’s Minister of Education, whose responsibilities also include Sport, has just lost his job due to the mismanagement of the Tokyo Olympics. It remains to be seen whether the new Minister will reverse his education policies.

Social Science in Japan Under Attack

14 09 2015

Some terrible news has come out of Japan today.

Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakuban Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial decree has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will stop recruiting students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to a survey of university presidents … 

I agree that it is possible for a country to produce a surplus of social scientists and lawyers. I would suggest that Japan’s economic stagnation stems from the opposite problem. More and better economists could help Japan to produce better economic policies. More and better IR scholarship could allow Japan to improve its relations with its neighbouring countries. Professors who teach about the languages and cultures of mainland Asia could help to improve understanding with these fast-growing economies. More and better professors of English could improve the generally poor level of English in the country, which would definitely help the country to be more competitive. An end to the artificial restrictions on the supply of lawyers could promote economic efficiency.

Thank god Japan has private universities that don’t have to listen to stupid ministerial decrees.

Note how the Minister responsible for this stupid decree is one of the idiotic right-wingers in the cabinet of Shinzo Abe and has defended the policies pursued by Japan during the Second World War.  Any first-year IR student in the West would be able to tell you why, say, rescinding Japan’s apology to the Korean comfort union might be bad for Japan’s economy.

What a moron!