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Making the Bigs

September 30th, 2004

Foreign universities based in Japan are soon to be accepted by Monbusho, the Japanese Ministry of Education. This is a big thing, as up until now, foreign university campuses based in Japan–even those with full U.S. accreditation–were not considered real colleges by the Japanese government. Students at these schools were not given privileges enjoyed by most Japanese students, particularly student discounts on train and bus passes and other student prices. Additionally, credit earned by these schools would usually not be transferable to Japanese colleges.

In order to be recognized by Monbusho in the past, one’s curriculum had to be at least partly in Japanese, and a good many other labyrinthine requirements had to be met.

With the new rules, foreign colleges in Japan can now have roughly the same privileges while not being bound to strict Japanese-style regulations, so long as the country of origin has their embassy representatives visit the schools and vouch that their curriculum is identical to the home campus’.

Branch campuses of foreign schools in Japan exploded in the late 1980’s before the economic bubble had collapsed; about three dozen U.S. colleges and universities had accredited campuses here. That soon changed as the economy went south, Japanese financial backers backed out, and standards plummeted. Schools started shutting down without warning, leaving students stranded in mid-semester. This snowballed into a nationwide distrust of the schools, which led to further recruitment losses and closures, until there were only a handful remaining. With the closure of Minnesota State in Akita last year and the closing of the University of Illinois at Carbondale in Niigata soon, there will be only two accredited American colleges remaining in Japan, both in Tokyo: Temple University, and Lakeland College (Japanese site)–the school where I myself work as an assistant professor.

Our school has been doing very well; our student body tripled in just four years after I started working here (not cause and effect, alas), although some of that gain was lost after 9/11 hit right as our 2002 recruitment drive was starting, and then the very next year, Bush started pushing for war in Iraq. Those incidents made many Japanese students and their parents nervous about safety issues. Since then, however, things have stabilized and numbers are again rising. The new expected Monbusho acceptance should go a very long way to helping us boost those number higher than before.

Additionally, Lakeland College has begun a new Study Abroad Program (Japanese page), in which American students come to live in Japan for four to eight months, while still earning credits from a U.S.-accredited college.

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