By Arudou Debito (ne Dave Aldwinckle),
JALT Kitakyushu Presentation with
John McLaughlin, Nov 23, 2001, 11AM

We have discussed issues of job security and academic performance on various occasions in the past (see references). This talk is not to debate whether employment systems of tenure or ninkisei contract are fair or viable--that is dealt with in an upcoming paper in The Language Teacher. Rather, its purpose is to describe recent trends in university hiring practices for full-time positions.

Historically, "ninkisei" in Japanese tertiary education has meant a system where certain people (until 1997, educators lacking Japanese nationality) are offered one- to three-year contracts. Although laws on ninkisei state that contracts are "renewable by mutual consent", in practice renewal is at the employer's discretion (Japanese courts in the Korst and Gallagher Cases have upheld the employer's "right not to renew" (i.e. fire) contracted employees on almost any grounds, since judges said the act of signing a contract implied a tacit employee understanding that the position is temporary). For over a century, this system enabled Japanese universities to hire foreigners full-time on a time-limited basis (while Japanese received tenure from day one), often terminating foreign faculty's employment to cut costs.
Now, with the Japanese student body dropping from the low birthrate, downsizing and cost-cutting measures are seen as necessary for institutional survival. In 1995, the University Deliberation Council (Daigaku Shingikai) drew up White Papers to pave the way for contracting Japanese academics (hitherto taboo--since National and Public Universities treated Japanese as civil servants, permanently-employed if full-time; Private Universities did the same because perpetual full-time contracting was frowned on by the Labor Standards Law, which applies to the Private Sector). In 1997, the Diet passed the Sentaku Ninkisei Hou, making it "optional" for universities to adopt ninkisei for their educators (regardless of nationality), and establishing that perpetual contracts were also permitted under Labor Standards Law.
At first, few universities adopted ninkisei, since most Japanese educators would understandibly choose tenure over a post where they could be fired. So the Ministry of Education (Monbushou, now officially Monbukagakusho, hereafter MoE) began adjusting the system using its regular tools of administrative guidance. Keeping universities financial alcoholics through grant monies, MoE has recently created a budget (asking the government for 403億円 in 2002 (NB: around US $400 million--or enough for 4000 employees to make around US $100,000 per annum) for "Coordination and Promotion of Science Technology" (kagaku gijutsu shinkou chouseihi), meaning if the university breaks ranks and hires "researchers" (kenkyuusha) under contracts, MoE will pay their salaries. Consider the precedent: once established, over time these full-time "researchers" ultimately crowd out tenured "educators" (kyouin) in future entry-level university hirings--especially if the present faculty remain grandfathered, unaffected, and sold on the institutional savegrace of cheaper faculty.
Proposal has become practice. According to the Daigaku Shingikai report on Globalization (2000), zero National and Public Universities had ninkisei employment for full-time Japanese in 1997. Since then universities with ninkisei have steadily appeared. In 1998 there were 16 Nat and Pub universities with 82 contract "researchers". By 2000 that had more than tripled to 52 universities, contract "researchers" increasing by more than seven-fold, to 597. These statistics do not include the five Private Universities (as of 1998) which also opted for this MoE deal, making the trend sectorwide.
That is the Japanese side of the coin. As for the update on how the reverse is proceeding--tenure for foreigners--I have been less successful getting data on sectorwide hiring practices for foreign faculty.

It is a chore to get information from Japan's ministries, and MoE, as lobbiers involved in the Prefectural University of Kumamoto can attest, is particularly protective. With the passage of Japan's Freedom of Information Act (Jouhou Koukai Hou) in 1999, all ministries are required to have a "Public-Access Information Desk" (Jouhou Koukai Shitsu) which will surrender documentation on request. MoE is no exception. The problem is the Desk's staff are not librarians there to do research for you. You must request on a form (行政文書開示請求書) the exact name of the document you require--not ask a general question like "How many foreigners are tenured in all of Japan's universities?" To be fair, the Desk staff did their best, but I spent more than three hours there researching, plus two more personally asking junior bureaucrats at the 高等教育局 (I got in because I had letter correspondence with them in April and May 2001 for a May 20 JALT Hokkaido Presentation) for information on the employment status of all foreigners at all Japanese universities. 高等教育局 continued to deny they had any statistical records of foreign faculty outside of public universities (which is highly dubious, since MoE approves all university faculty in Japan, and thus should have on file what capacity those people were hired; after all, even professorial statuses are published in the 職員録). They would only release data for National and Public Universities. With this caveat in mind, let's talk about trends.
According to the 高等教育局企画課法規係, the number of non-Japanese hired full-time at all ranks at the Nat and Pub Universities were, as of July 1, 2001: 662 people (1998), 696 (1999), and 706 (2000). However, of those totals, the number who were not on ninkisei were 150 (23% of 1998's total), 180 (26% of 1999's), and 205 (29% of 2000's). This indicates three interesting job market trends: 1) Despite demography, the public universities are in fact not downsizing, 2) Foreigners are being tenured in greater proportions, in a market once closed to them due to "nationality clause" concerns, and 3) Tenured foreigners are still clearly a minority. Things seem to be getting better, but without data from Private Universities, where the majority of Japanese university faculty work, definitive conclusions evade.

To be fair again, it's not all MoE's doing. As administrator of the Blacklist and Greenlist of Japanese Universities, I see job announcements becoming more sophisticated. Many don't say the position is contracted (in violation of MoE guidelines about up-front and explicit employment limitations), or when doing so promote the benefits (housing, travel expenses, higher monthly salary but often no bonus). Fired faculty also email me of capped contracts at one or two renewals, a condition revealed only after their arrival. Other unis use the western rubric of a "Visiting Professorship" (though Japanese are not eligible for this post). The most original are those (cf. Ritsumeikan) which no longer say explicitly that contracts are for "foreigners"--rather for "Native-speaker Full-time English Language Instructors" (which would make me, as a Japanese citizen, an applicant saddled with the wrong native tongue). To be sure, more tenurizing universities join the Greenlist every seasonal update, but a search of most full-time job announcements reveals that non-ninkisei positions are still diamonds in the rough.


Under the bureaucratic rubric of "enlivenment" (kasseika) and the (rather supercilious) "personnel nurturing" (jinzai ikusei) in its internal documentation, MoE is slowly taking control of a sector hitherto untouchable after Japanese educators were hired full time--their employment tenure. Although naysayers (and MoE itself) may claim that the latter has no say over a person's employment dismissal, it is certainly now more conceivable than ever that if an educator on ninkisei espouses unpopular views, a quick phone call from the MoE to the Dean, hinting about future administrative favors denied, can certainly result in a contract non-renewal. This informal system of oversight is historically well-established with foreign academics (cf admin guidance 1992-94) in the previous century. The next century promises to make it universal. In sum, contracts, not tenure, are gaining ground in the Japanese university job market, making it harder for any educator in Japan regardless of nationality to be financially secure.


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Copyright 2001, Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan