Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who needs English? (in Japan)

According to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry enrollment at language schools in Japan has dropped from 826,858 students in February 2006 to 335,604 this year. In February 2007, there were approximately 750,000 students taking foreign language lessons in Japan. By 2008, the number was 360,000. Fewer young people are going to U.S. for school.

For some, grass is greener at Japan’s campuses

TOKYO — Takuya Otani would love an MBA from a top US business school, but he won’t apply. When he graduates from college in Tokyo next year, he’ll pass on an American degree and attend graduate school in Japan.

“I am a grass-eater,’’ Otani said wistfully, using an in-vogue expression for a person who avoids stress, controls risk, and grazes contentedly in home pastures.

(Comment: a disinterested observer could mention that cows get milked and butchered)

Once a voracious consumer of American higher education, Japan is becoming a nation of grass-eaters. Undergraduate enrollment in US universities has fallen 52 percent since 2000; graduate enrollment has dropped 27 percent.

It is a potentially harmful decline for an export-dependent nation that is losing global market share to its highly competitive Asian neighbors, whose students are flocking to US schools...

"Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said that when she visited Japan last month, she met with students and educators who told her that Japanese young people are inward-looking, preferring the comfort of home to venturing overseas. They also told her they view the economic advantage of attending a U.S. college as questionable.

"An international degree is not as valued," Faust said she learned from her encounters here.

Bottom-line considerations are steering many young Japanese away from U.S. colleges, said Tadashi Yokoyama, chairman of the board of Agos Japan, a Tokyo company that prepares students to take language exams and other tests needed for admission to foreign schools.

"This is not a time in Japan for intellectual curiosity," said Yokoyama, who graduated from UCLA in the early 1980s. "You have to think about investment and return."

In the 1970s and '80s, when Japan's economy was booming, the bottom line did not matter for many young Japanese. It was fashionable, stimulating and affordable for them to travel the world, study English in foreign settings and attend college in the United States. Their parents had money, and jobs were plentiful when they came home.

The collapse of the bubble economy in the 1990s changed those calculations. And the construction inside Japan of more than 200 new universities has made it easy to find an affordable education without enduring jet lag and having to learn English.

At the same time, Japan's low birthrate is constricting college enrollment, both inside and outside the country. The number of children under the age of 15 has fallen for 28 consecutive years. The size of the nation's high school graduating class has shrunk by 35 percent in the past two decades."


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