Bern Mulvey on the odd MEXT university accreditation system (JALT 2009 powerpoint presentation)


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Hello Blog.  Dr Bern Mulvey of Iwate University gave a presentation for PALE at the national JALT Conference last November.  Entitled “UNIVERSITY ACCREDITATION IN JAPAN: PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES“, it outlines how Monkasho (the infamous Education Ministry in Japan) certifies universities as teaching institutions, and what measures it takes to ensure quality control. The presentation shows a lot of the tricks and sleights of hands the universities do to keep their status (particularly in regards to FD — as in that buzzword “Faculty Development”, and peer review) without actually changing much.  I asked his permission to reproduce his powerpoint on, so here it is as fifteen slides (jpg format, click to expand in browser).  Or if you prefer to download it in the original .ppt format, click here.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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9 comments on “Bern Mulvey on the odd MEXT university accreditation system (JALT 2009 powerpoint presentation)

  • Deepspacebeans says:

    Just a little food for thought from the other end of the experience to start us off.

    I had spent a good deal of time studying at Meiji University during my undergraduate. During this time, I had taken at least 3 courses in which 50 percent of my grade was derived from attendance. As long as I showed up to class and could muster the intelligence necessary to write my name on the final exam, I could not fail these courses. This is from one of the top private universities in the country, not some small third-rate institution and this was in the regular faculties, not some sort of special class for foreign students.

    I find it unbelievable that the actual criteria the accreditation board was using was only publicized in 1995. I figured they would have a bit more transparency than the FCC in the United States. It is like presenting a person with an essay, giving them the topic with no other information as to how the paper should be written and then failing people for not using MLA format and for being under/over 6000 words.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    “Quantity over quality” seems to be my university’s motto as well. It’s pretty much as Deepspacebeans put it in his comment: as long as you attend every class and write your name on the final exam paper, you’re golden. And my university claims to be one of the top state universities in Japan, too.

  • Deepspacebeans, forget about grades. What a student earns at a university is knowledge and intelligence, not grades. If a student studies hard enough, his intelligence can be observable from everyone. If a student makes a big fuss about grades, most Japanese think he lacks confidence in himself and he is so desperate because his grades are the only things that prove him.

    Japanese firms do not look at university grades anyway. They only believe their eyes and ears when hiring a “seishain”. That is why a candidate has to go through five or so job interviews before getting a “naitei”. Grades are irrelevant, so universities give little consideration in grading.

    — What planet are you from, HO?

  • Thomas Simmons says:

    In sum (and with a nod to the few exceptions), no expectation of having learned/taught anything, going through the motions, filling in time, bogus but easily measurable parameters for grades (institutions’ and students’)– that USA model, one of many by the way, was warehousing: controlling the labour supply as it leaves one level of school and continues on to another.

    If all high school graduates entered the labour market at the same time there would be large unemployment concerns and labour remuneration rates would drop precipitously. By slowing down the process–holding people off the market–you have greater control of employment rates.

    In addition you develop the huge tertiary education infrastructure which is a major business in itself. The political points that can be earned from all this by the parties in power go without saying.

    Eventually the institutions get caught up in the hype and you have what you see so often now, the unemployable and incompetent running segments of a vast system without a clue as what they are doing and no ethical structure to push them to develop or excel. The tertiary institutions are, as a result, frequently warehouses for the unemployed and unemployable of all ages.

  • treblekickeresq says:

    Bern has a good article on the same topic in the Jan/Feb issue of The Language Teacher if anyone is interested in reading more about it.

  • American-style accreditation stinks. The Japanese version of it will simply be added into the mix of government-certification. The real future of accreditation lies in improved assessment of specialities/majors/programs and mode of delivery (taught courses, modules, distance learning). In that so far the US has proven as hapless as any other country or system in the world.


    13 February 2008
    FACTOID #2: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited?

    Question: Are universities and colleges in Japan accredited?

    Answer: They could be, but most are not–not yet, anyway.

    In theory, certified tertiary institutions (universities, junior colleges, colleges of technology) could be accredited. But very few institutions or programs have actually undergone external evaluation and accreditation. Even this limited activity is a fairly recent phenomenon because accreditation was switched from voluntary to mandatory.

    Japan’s political economy is structured around a centralized national government, which attempts to exert control across the entire country from the top on down to the lowest level of government. The higher education sector is no exception. Institutions can run taught programs and issue degrees because they have gone through a time-consuming, laborious process of registering with the national government. The more government money an institution takes (such as the former national and public universities), the more direct the control of the government is.

    The concept of accreditation in the way Americans think of it has little meaning in Japan. For example, Temple University of Japan (TUJ) has never bothered to register with the national government as a domestic institution, citing costs and interference with its autonomy over curriculum. Yet it asserts that the accreditation which Temple University in the US has also applies as a mark of quality over its programs and courses in Japan. That is a dubious proposition at best. But that has more to do with the problems of American-style accreditation than with Temple University or TUJ. Also, under the current era of reform, the Japanese government has conceded to TUJ the right to have its degrees recognized in Japan.

    American-style accreditation has not yet been a major factor in standardization and quality assurance at universities and colleges in Japan. The national government and its ministry of education had required that universities and colleges conduct internal review of their programs and operations and report the results. The term ‘external audit’ in the case of a private university would most likely mean an accounting audit to satisfy the board of directors or the tax office.

    Japan’s School Education Act was amended in 2002, with a new mandatory accreditation scheme starting in 2004. The government certified a handful of accreditation organizations, and all public and private universities, junior colleges, and colleges of technology are now required to undergo the accreditation process every seven years. So accreditation of entire institutions or at least some of their programs could soon be a major factor in higher education.

    Between 2004-2007 a small fraction of Japan’s total certified higher education institutions underwent accreditation as sort of a pilot program. And now the national government is forcing the former national universities into an external review process administered by the four existing accrediting agencies.

    Still, until the outcomes of the first external review process become clear in the next several years and until all institutions can join the accreditation process, the national government is the single source of ‘legitimacy’ for universities and colleges. Besides, confusingly enough, it now certifies the accrediting agencies. And tertiary institutions can issue degrees, certificates and diplomas only because the national government approves and certifies them. The government also sets enrollment quotas for all certified universities and colleges.

    It is also uncertain whether or not American-style accreditation processes can validly and reliably assess Japanese institutions. Actually, it is not even certain if what the government here has in mind is American-style accreditation. It appears to be a mix of both top-down government roles of the sort American institutions would never abide combined with non-government accreditating agencies, the oldest of which goes back to the Occupation (namely, the Japan University Accreditation Association).

    In 1947-8 the American Occupation attempted to establish American-style accreditation when it controlled the entire education system of Japan and pushed educational reform as a way of ‘fixing’ what Americans thought was wrong with the imperial Japan it had defeated. But the nationalist conservatives who run the Japanese government, once given the chance to rule, always asserted their right to control the university system as an integral part of national and territorial sovereignty.

    It should also be pointed out that American-style accreditation is not understood well outside of Anglo-North America and is not inherently ‘universal’. It would seem the concept confuses many Americans as well. An American institution does not have the legal right to issue a valid degree because of accreditation but rather its charter with its respective state government. Japan doesn’t have state governments, and the prefectural governments are more on the scale of the county in the US.

    But most importantly, it has to be asked: Has American-style accreditation even kept up with the US’s hypertrophied higher education, let alone proven to be a model for other countries? Is it really an assurance of quality for highly technical programs or innovative ones in emergent fields? Can it assess new modes of delivery (such as modular study done through distance learning over the internet and WWW)?

    At any rate, the four official accrediting agencies that are going to become busy in the next several years, as hundreds, if not thousands, of universities and colleges undergo the accreditation process are the following:

    (1) National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE)
    (2) Japan University Accreditation Association (JUAA)
    (3) Japan Institution for Higher Education Evaluation (JIHEE)
    (4) Japan Association for College Accreditation (JACA)

    There is also the non-government Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE). This organization bears mentioning because of the large number of engineering programs at universities in Japan, both national and private.

    What Japan really needs is certification and accreditation standards that fit the needs of the 100,000 plus students from China, E. Asia and S.E. Asia now completing degrees and certificates in higher education. The educational authorities and policy makers in Japan ought to be discussing harmonization for credits, certificates and degrees with China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. For example, why not an all-Asian set of standards for degree-level qualifications in engineering?
    Posted by CEJ
    Labels: accreditation, accreditation process, certification, engineering, external evaluation

  • An interesting post there, Mr. Jannuzi. I have a question for you at the end, but first some corrections:

    “Between 2004-2007, a small fraction of Japan’s total certified higher education institutions underwent accreditation as sort of a pilot program.”

    Actually, the “pilot” period (including especially the jiko hyouka and evaluations by JUAA) started and finished before 2004. From 2004, everything has been “official.”

    “And now the national government is forcing the former national universities into an external review process administered by the four existing accrediting agencies.”

    Actually, JIHEE evaluates only private universities, and JACA evaluates chiefly tandais and senmon gakkous. Moreover, while the other two agencies (especially NIAD-UE) may seem to concentrate on national/public universities, they also provide accreditation evaluations for private universities as well. E.g., Ritsumeikan, a private university, received its accreditation evaluation from JUAA in 2004 (i.e., the first year possible), with the results announced in early 2005.

    “Still, until the outcomes of the first external review process become clear in the next several years and until all institutions can join the accreditation process, the national government is the single source of ‘legitimacy’ for universities and colleges.”

    This doesn’t make sense at all. As alluded to above, private universities have been able to “join the accreditation process” from the beginning, and there was never any attempt to exclude anybody. JIHEE’s initial (2004-2006) seminars explaining the process were each attended by 300+ private universities, and it was made very clear then that they (JIHEE) were “ready” to start with the inspections immediately (however, see my comment in the next paragraph). Moreover, private and public universities have been being evaluated in relatively equal numbers each year. Heck, by the end of 2007 (i.e., before your blog entry to the contrary), all the major tertiary institutions in your prefecture (Fukui) had been accredited (Fukui Kenritsu in 2005, Jinai in 2006, Fukui National in 2007, and Fukui Kougyou in 2007). That’s two public, and two private, universities.

    There are two main reasons for the comparatively low number of accreditation evaluations from 2004-2007. First, there just were not enough trained evaluators initially available to allow for an increased number of on-campus inspections. Second, and most importantly, Japan-style accreditation is an extremely grueling, 3-year process–the first year for accruing/organizing the data in the fashion required, the second to begin writing the 100-page houkokusho (and officially apply/pay for the accreditation evaluation), and the third for finishing/submitting the houkokusho and receiving the onsite inspection. Given that most private universities hadn’t begun this process before 2004, the absolute earliest (assuming sufficient evaluators were available) most could have received their onsite inspections was 2007. Still, by the end of this year (2010), nearly all of Japan’s universities/tandais will have undergone accreditation evaluations by one of the four accrediting agencies. Indeed, while the actually impact/benefit so far can be questioned, considering the circumstances (and formidable hurdles in place), one can argue that the accreditation PROCESS here has been moving along with admirable speed and grace.

    “The government also sets enrollment quotas for all certified universities and colleges.”

    No, private universities set their own enrollment “quotas”–indeed, as Monkasho now penalizes (by reducing funding) all universities unable to meet enrollment quotas, one strategy increasingly utilized by impacted private universities has been to reduce said intake quotas.

    Finally, it needs to be reiterated that, while ostensibly based on American-style accreditation, university accreditation in Japan has only superficial similarities with the former. (Similarly, “Faculty Development” in Japan is also supposedly “based on the US-model,” but is actually a very different animal.) The quotes/references appearing in Mulvey’s 2010 article suggest that he is also aware of this, but he does not discuss it–probably due to TLT’s stringent limitations on word count.

    And now for my question–this link you provide, it is to your own private blog, correct? A blog you call “Japan Higher Education Outlook,” right?

  • Hate to do this, but assuming you’re considering one day trying to publish this blog entry of yours, the following should be corrected as well:

    “The term ‘external audit’ in the case of a private university would most likely mean an accounting audit to satisfy the board of directors or the tax office.”

    JIHEE (specializing in private university accreditation evaluations) has had their evaluation criteria/standards up on their website since at least 2005. (This, actually, is in fact true of all four accrediting agencies.) I.e., there should have been no guesswork involved at all (especially in 2008), and yet the statement above is completely wrong.

    Finally, two quick corrections of my own initial post. JACA apparently still only does tandais (I thought they’d added senmon gakkous from last year, but I was wrong). Also, I wrote, “Given that most private universities hadn’t begun this process before 2004,” but I probably should have also added that many public universities were no better prepared. Indeed, the initial unpreparedness of so many schools, combined with the aforementioned three years needed to prepare, is a major reason why the number of accreditation evaluations increased exponentially in 2007.


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