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TOKYO—While on assignment in Japan recently, Blaine Harden sat down with Yujiro Hayashi, president of the Institute of National Colleges of Technology (Kosen), to talk about what the United States can learn from the Kosen system, why technical education is essential, what the future holds—and more.
Q: What are Kosen Colleges of Technology doing right, and what are American and Japanese universities doing wrong?
A: We teach technology in a way that gives students real, hands-on experience in what they will be doing on the job. We design many courses to meet the needs of the local industries where Kosen colleges are located. Four-year universities in Japan do not do that. They have followed the American system, emphasizing education that is more theoretical than practical. In some cases, four years at a Japanese university is a kind of holiday. So the skills of university graduates are often not well matched to the needs of Japanese industry. High schools teach math and science skills so that students can pass a test—and then the skills are forgotten. In Kosen, students use math to build things, and they use it on the job in their internships.
How has globalization changed the job market in Japan—and in the United States?
In the global market, Japanese and U.S. companies can now hire a technically proficient foreign student over a local university graduate who has been trained in theory but not in practice. Kosen colleges are less threatened by this trend because they do a better job of finding out what industry needs and making sure that graduates have the skills to do it. For each graduate of our five-year course, there are 20 job offers. For graduates of our seven-year course, there are 30 offers.
Lessons From Abroad
This story is part of The Hechinger Report’s ongoing series on what the U.S. can learn from higher education in other countries.
Are parents in Japan and the United States wasting their tuition money—and are their children wasting their time—in universities that fail to train students for existing jobs?
The answer is yes. But please understand me: I am not saying that the study of liberal arts is useless. It is very important for human development. University training costs a lot of money, is very time-consuming, and it should be as efficient as possible. In order to survive in the global economy, liberal-arts colleges should adapt to a model of sustainable development and find a way to connect students to engineering and the natural sciences. Universities must give students tools for dealing with real engineering problems like global warming. That is why Kosen education is so valuable, especially as global competition increases.
Because of Japan’s demographic implosion, the number of high-school graduates has plunged in the past two decades, creating hundreds of “zombie” universities that cannot find enough students to justify their existence. Do Kosen have a zombie problem?
No. There are plenty of applicants to fill available seats in our colleges. Parents know their children will get good jobs when they graduate. While the number of students across Japan will continue to decrease, we anticipate no problem in finding students.