Will the University of Tokyo Change? The Social Responsibility of the University of Tokyo


It has recently been reported that the University of Tokyo has been looking into the idea of starting fall entrance and summer graduation, a norm of college/university academic year of many countries.

What is the meaning of such a move?  Of course, it would be significant because it would bring the academic year of the University of Tokyo into line with major universities in most of the countries around the world.  It would have a ripple effect in so many ways including the promotion of international exchange between universities and making it possible to transfer between universities that are in different countries; enhance the mobility of faculty and students between Japan and the rest of the world.

This experiment has also yet to actually be approved overall by the authorities, Ministry of Education, but it would be possible to introduce the semester system and also thus have summer graduation (as well as fall entrance).  Some of the students at some universities do graduate in the summer (with a full-fledged graduation ceremony) and enter university in the fall, but these universities do not really hold much impact over Japanese society at large.  Moreover, since almost all major Japanese companies, civil service and other branches of Japanese society only hire new college graduate in the spring, what do the students who graduate in the summer do about trying to find a job?

Universities can do little to challenge major corporations which are set in their ways and resistant to change such as the long-standing practice of hiring of new graduates in one fell swoop.  At the very least, those students who have put off graduation for a year and not yet accepted a job within a company should still be considered new graduates.  Finding employment is difficult for university students regardless of the schedule (to say nothing of the difficulty that high school students are having trying to enter the job market), particularly at the time of economic difficulties like today.  Universities thus have no incentive to look seriously into the idea of a summer graduation.

Japanese society, at large, runs on a schedule of “start school in April and graduate in March” which makes it impossible to even really discuss the matter despite the growing need for internationalization.  Thus, Japanese universities and international society are inherently mismatched.

Thus, the fact that the University of Tokyo has begun to consider the idea of a fall graduation could be characterized as a challenge to this mismatch between globalization and the Japanese society with the summer graduation.  The real reason behind this move may actually be different, I just do not know, but this has been its ultimate impact.

The individual who brought up these points is Shigeyuki Jo (in Japanese).  I have followed Jo-san with his spirit of a maverick and his support of the youth, thus have been supporting him from behind.  It came as no surprise that this thoughtful opinion came from Shigeyuki Jo (in Japanese).

Moreover, it is hugely important that the University of Tokyo be the first university to put pressure on Japanese universities and the university system as well as society at large to change.  Such actions would not have much of value if they were taken up by another university, because the idea would not be picked up by the media and they would have almost no impact on society.

Thus, if the Japanese social system is ever going to adapt to the global schedule, everyone has to do their part. If the most influential university in Japan does not take action, then nothing will happen. This is the responsibility that comes with being a leader in the society of ‘Japan Inc.’  That is why I often refer to the leading role that the University of Tokyo should exercise often in my lecturings and speeches.

The same logical argument can be made for the role of the university hospital in the restructuring the ‘medical’ care system (or better characterized as the structuring of the ‘health’ care system) and I made this argument in a book I authored entitled The University Hospital Revolution (published in Japanese). I am not sure how much this book has attracted attention . . .

So what will happen?  Will the University of Tokyo lead the way for the restructuring of Japan?