Education ministry probes ‘degree mills’

When I first read this headline, I actually thought it was actually saying that the MoE would be investigating universities in Japan that grant students degrees without requiring them to either attend classes regularly or show any particular level of academic achievement, but on closer inspection that turned out not to be the case.

The education ministry has started an investigation into whether diplomas obtained at unaccredited overseas academic institutions known as “degree mills” have played a part in recruiting faculty at Japanese universities, ministry officials said Monday.

The probe covers personnel departments of national, municipal and private universities across Japan. The ministry plans to disclose its findings by this fall.

Recently some university prospectuses have listed teaching staff whose qualifications were obtained from such overseas institutions.

The ministry has asked universities to report back on whether they have ever hired academics on the basis of credentials that were later found to be bogus, and whether those credentials were unwittingly featured in school promotional literature or on Web sites.

Certainly verification of instructors’ credentials is helpful in  assuring quality education, but I’m still a bit disappointed this wasn’t an announcement of reforms aimed at improving some of the chronic problems allegedly present in most Japanese institutions higher education. Readers who lack any direct experience with university in Japan but are interested might want to check out the book Japanese Higher Education as Myth, by Brian J. McVeigh. McVeigh’s general tone, as one might guess from the title, is rather cynical and indicting, and his book suffers from a severe lack of balance (i.e. showing any positive examples of schools where students may actually do some work, such as the national universities or the better private ones, or the excellent research conducted in many places) but it also remains one of the few easily accessible and well known sources on the issue in English.

McVeigh would undoubtedly endorse a description of most (from his jaded perspective, perhaps even all) Japanese universities as “degree mills.” Who agrees or disagrees?

11 thoughts on “Education ministry probes ‘degree mills’”

  1. – Degree mills are a more serious problem than slacker undergrads as they are handing out MAs and PhDs and other advanced degrees. Let’s face it, everybody knows that at BA means very little (you can have a fantastic student / potential employee with a BA or you can have someone who should never have been given a high school diploma). As bad as Japanese universities can be at the undergrad level, you can’t slack your way through a PhD under normal circumstances. With the worst of the degree mills, you just give them your credit card number and boom, you are Dr. XYZ.
    – Japanese undergrad education is often called slack, but “slack compared to what?” is a better question. We’ve all seen the horror stats on American seniors reading at a high school level, not being able to identify which CENTURY the American Civil War was in, and getting away with handing in wikipeida articles as undergrad essays because uni administrations are afraid of a lawsuit if they try to bust for plagiarism. Just about any of us can top this kind of discussion off with personal anecdotes – a Japanese university student majoring in English may not be able to make sense in conversation but you can bet your ass that they can at least muddle through a newspaper article. There are TOP Japanese programs in the USA that are only demanding 500 kanji (ie. proverbial cereal box reading level) of their graduates. I also had an American undergrad ask me if the Japanese were the bad guys in World War I. There are also some degree programs in “the West” that are notorious for assigning group work so it is indeed possible to ride on the backs of others and graduate with top marks (far less common in Japan).
    – Some Japanese unis do a good job by demanding graduation essays of all undergrads in certain majors. This is normally only demanded of people doing “honours” degrees in the systems that I am used to. As I understand it, Japan also does not have a culture of “paper buying” like the one that has been exposed in the USA (even at Ivy League schools).

    BS “Western” complaints – Japanese are robots, no social skills, no real human connections (because of tatemae for example), just learn “facts” with no creativity, etc. Sooooo…. young people rebel, taking college as a chance to concentrate on club activities, friendships, creative pursuits (like drawing manga, playing in a band, etc.) and…. you get more “Western” complaints.

    Just like the whole “freeter” thing — Whitey spent the better part of two decades writing about Japanese as corporate drones and when Japanese young people rebel…. Whitey, without missing a beat, starts writing about how this is the collapse of Japanese competitiveness or even the collapse of Japanese society….

    Yeah, it would be nice if they could do something about undergrad slacking in Japan (and elsewhere), but degree mills are just poison.

  2. Awesome comment, m-bone. Yeah, I love the Japanese lit PhDs from Colombia I’ve met who can’t even order a meal in a restaurant in Japan.

  3. “The education ministry has started an investigation into whether diplomas obtained at unaccredited overseas academic institutions known as “degree mills” have played a part in recruiting faculty at Japanese universities, ministry officials said Monday.”

    I just finished reading the latest van Wolfren’s book”日本人だけが知らないアメリカの「世界支配」の終わりThe End of American Hegemony”….
    And reading this post reminds me of a fact,that one of the first job that Wolfren got in Japan was English teacher at Waseda in 1965.Not only he has no PhD nor MA,he didn’t even have BA!(He left Rotterdam after graduating highschool for shoestring trip in Asia)and Wolfren still can’t speak Japanese fluently,let alone reading it.But,you can still be a proffesor of Univ.of Amsterdam as Japan expert.

    Perhaps McVeigh has a point,although that may not be the way he meant it to be.

  4. Ooops,It is “Both the MoE and McVeigh” and it is “They”and not “He”.

  5. Yeah, Wolferan’s “enigma”, while the definitive “pop scholar” account of Japan in its time showed his lack of academic training. There were gaps in evidence and reasoning that you could drive a truck through, and in any case it was generally just an extrapolation to wider Japanese “society” of work that Chalmers Johnson had done in MITI and the Japanese miracle. Chalmers also recently wrote a book about American hegemony. I assume Wolfie’s book says much the same thing. I doubt I will be bothered with it.

    As to the question of the quality of Japanese universities, I found the grad programme at Osaka University equally or more rigorous than the ones at the “world’s top fifty (top thirty arts faculty) university” where I am currently doing my Ph.D. I learned more about the theoretical aspects of my field than the master’s students here seem to (despite the oft-repeated mantra that “the Japanese” can’t handle abstract thought) and the coursework load was quite demanding. Certainly some J-unis are shit, but that is well known and third-rate universities have been appearing elsewhere (like Britain) for some time now with the deregulation of tertiary education. At least you can kind of tell crappy Japanese universities by their name. They will usually have some modifier attached to “university”. i.e Hamamatsu University of Information Technology, Sendai Communications University, Osaka Dolphin Training and Young Ladies’ Etiquette University, etc.

    The degree mills overseas do need to be shut down, and I think its fair enough that the Japanese are checking on them. This was an issue as early as December when I was in Tokyo. I saw a T.V. show that had tracked down the “University of Western Alabama” or some similarly named institution and found that it was a post office box. In true Japanese tabloid style the reporter asked the guy who worked at the shop which maintained the boxes whether or not he was a “professor” at the University.

    …so is this blog back to normal then?

  6. “At least you can kind of tell crappy Japanese universities by their name. “”
    You can also tell by how grand the name of the school is.

    University of Tokyo>Kanto Univ.>Nihon Univ.>Asia Univ.
    There was this crappy college by the name of “Eurasia Univ” in the manga GTO….

    I must say van Wolfren’s trilogy(“George W.Bush and the Destruction of World Order”,”Sakoku by Other Means”,and this “The End of the American Hegemony”) is no worse(or better) than Johnson’s trilogy on American empires when it comes to the description on Japan(and China of which both highly regards).I’ve found it quite interesting how he is turning extremly EU centric after the Iraq war than the Atlanticist view of the U.S he had in the past.

  7. I thought Johnson’s work on Japan in the 70s through to the 90s was okay. It didn’t have that air of “Japan is a system not a nation” that Wolferan was prone to.

  8. But he has confused idea about democracy in Japan too.He doesn’t acknowledge
    Japan as a democracy in many of the writing in the 90’s while praising Kidoutai機動隊as one of the most sophiscated counter revolutionary police unit in “advanced democracies”,in “Autopsy on People’s War”(published in 1973).

    I agree his works on Japan in the 70’s are okay,But 90’s….I have a lot to say.

    Someone here doesn’t even like Johnson back in the 70’s.

    先日(Robert)Bellah邸で私をかこむprivateな会合があり、今の研究テーマなどについて即席の話をさせられましたが、(Chalmers)Johnsonという升味(準之輔)君などよく知っている政治学者が一人いて、ピントのはずれた質問をしたので、彼が帰ったあと、残った面々(社会学者と、日本・中国専門の歴史家)から、さんざ政治学者(political Scientist)一般の悪口が出て面白い光景でした。貴君がいつかいわれたように、政治学と歴史関係とが分かれているアメリカの事態は不幸だと思います。「お前をpolitical scientistだとは我々は誰も思わない」というのは何と私への賛辞なのです!価値判断は別として、日本ではむしろそういう認識が一般化してほしいものだと


                                            古矢旬 宛書簡 

  9. Aceface’s “scale” of universities is pretty good, though I would like to note that some of the ‘area’ universities are some of the top, since they were former Imperial Universities in the prewar period. Tohoku, Kyushu, etc. Nihon Daigaku is also pretty decent I believe.

    I have fairly extensive experience with Japanese university education from the POV of the student, and would not classify the one I went to as any sort of diploma mill. Sure, the end-of-semester exams in the BA are a joke, but you have to write a thesis to graduate – even with a BA. Seminars can be tough too, going beyond just sitting around talking about stuff. But then it was a well-ranked National one and not Asia-Pacific International University of Technology or something like that, so I don’t know what the standards are there. I did have reason to visit the library of one of the smaller private ones nearby, one that was until recently just female, and to my astonishment there was no one at all (seriously – maybe one person max, if that) in the university library at about five or six in the evening. So the smaller ones might be a little slack. But that’s why universities have ranks in Japan (and elsewhere of course) and people here can tell the difference between Osaka University and Osaka Global International University of Learning – it would be harder to tell apart non-Japanese ones for Japanese, I would imagine.

    And I’ll bet any program in the US that only requires 500 kanji won’t have its grads even reading cereal boxes…. Seriously, 500? I learned more than that in high school….

  10. So Aceface, where do you rank Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University? Especially compared with the main Ritsumeikan University.

  11. Good point MF.
    All I can say is Ritsumeikan APU and International Christian Univ.will be the exceptions from my thesis.I say APU is better than main franchaise.

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