Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”, it has been reported.Wow. Is this an admission on Japan's part, or that of its government, that it feels too poor to support education? Too underpopulated in the next generation to support any fields besides engineering and science? Too threatened by its history to allow for its study? Too anxious to support the study of ideas? To embarrassed to permit the examination of its politics and social institutions?
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, according to a survey of university presidents by the Yomiuri Shimbun.
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 intervention 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 restrict the recruitment of students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to the survey, which was reported by the blog Social Science Space.
It reports that the Science Council of Japan put out a statement late last month that expressed its “profound concern over the potentially grave impact that such an administrative directive implies for the future of the HSS [humanities and social sciences] in Japan”.
The call to close the liberal arts and social science faculties are believed to be part of wider efforts by prime minister Shinzo Abe to promote what he has called “more practical vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society”.
However, it is likely to be connected with ongoing financial pressures on Japanese universities, linked to a low birth rate and falling numbers of students, which have led to many institutions running at less than 50 per cent of capacity.
Or as Noah Smith at Bloomberg suggested:
But the main takeaway is that Japan’s policy-making process is arbitrary and dysfunctional. According to Takuya Nakaizumi, an economics professor at Kanto Gakuin University, the changes were probably written not by Minister Shimomura himself, but by more junior members of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If that is true, it means that sweeping policy changes, which will affect the entire economic and social structure of the nation, are being made by junior officials via an unaccountable and opaque process.