Desperately seeking students

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

The Guardian reports:

Up to 40% of Japan’s 744 universities could go bust, merge or close in the next 10 years, according to research by a British professor at Oxford, out later this year.

Decades of falling birthrates have shrunk the number of 18-year-olds, who provide 90% of all university entrants, down to 1.3 million last year from 2.05 million in 1992. With no baby boom or immigration influx on the horizon, the figure is expected to further plummet to 1.18 million by 2012 – an overall decrease of 42.3% over 20 years.


‘To survive the global competition among universities, each institution in Japan is trying to create a unique selling point for itself,’ he says. ‘For example, there are universities that focus on attracting office workers to study part-time and those that are trying to recruit as many foreign students as they can.’

Japanese universities are also starting to teach classes in English in a last-ditch attempt to recruit students from outside Japan. Waseda University is one example. Its international studies faculty now runs the majority of lectures in English.

Japan’s predicament might ring alarm bells for those in the know in the UK. The number of our 18-year-olds is predicted to fall dramatically between 2010 and 2019 because of fewer births in the 1990s. By 2019, there will be 120,000 fewer school-leavers in the population than a decade earlier. By 2050, the proportion of 15- to 24-year-olds will make up just 11% of the population. It was 16% in 1990.


A Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) paper, Demand for Higher Education to 2020 and Beyond, argued that closing the gender gulf by getting more boys into university was crucial to maintaining and expanding numbers in the sector. But the thinktank’s director, Bahram Bekhradnia, does not think the demographic decline we face poses a threat to the majority of institutions.

Those that could be hit, reckons Gerstle, are the less prestigious, the recently founded and those in rural areas.


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