Ninkisei in Japan's Universities:
Symptoms, Effects, and Legal Underpinnings
By Arudou Debito

Peace as a Global Language Conference, Itabashi, Tokyo
Sept 27, 2002, 1:00-3:00pm
Text of Conference Handout

Japan's university system, the second most-endowed in the world, has a bifurcated employment system based on nationality. Full-time (常勤) educators with Japanese citizenship are generally employed with permanent, uncontracted tenure (任期のない雇用). Conversely, full-time foreign educators are generally hired on gaikokujin kyoushi or kyouin contracts (of one to three years respectively) under a system called ninkisei (任期制). Although laws on ninkisei state that these contracts are "renewable by mutual consent", in practice renewal is essentially at the employer's discretion--backed by judicial precedent. (footnote: Courts for the Korst and Gallagher lawsuits upheld the employer's "right not to renew"--i.e. fire--contracted employees on almost any grounds, ruling that act of signing a contract implied the employee's understanding that the position is temporary. )

Consequently, for over a century ninkisei enabled Japanese universities to hire foreigners only as term-limited full-timers, and fire them for numerous reasons inapplicable to Japanese faculty (such as trimming budgets). Now, with Japan's low birthrate reducing the student population, downsizing and cost-cutting measures are seen as necessary for institutional survival. In 1995, the University Deliberation Council (大学審議会) drew up White Papers for contracting Japanese academics (hitherto taboo--since National and Public Universities treated Japanese as civil servants, i.e. permanently-employed if full-timers; Private Universities did the same because perpetual full-time contracting was frowned on by the Labor Standards Law (労働基準法), which applies to the Private Sector). In 1997, the Diet passed the 選択任期制法, making it "optional" for universities to adopt ninkisei for their educators (regardless of nationality), and establishing that perpetual contracting is also permitted under the Labor Standards Law.

At first, few universities adopted ninkisei due to its competitive disadvantage: most Japanese educators would understandibly choose tenure over a post where they could be fired. So the Ministry of Education (Monbushou, now Monbukagakusho, hereafter MoE) began adjusting the system using its regular tools of "administrative guidance" (行政指導). Maintaining universities' financial alcoholism through grant monies, MoE has recently created a budget (asking the government for 403億円 in 2002) for "Coordination and Promotion of Science Technology" (科学技術振興調整費), meaning if the university breaks ranks and hires "researchers" (研究者) under contracts, MoE will pay their salaries in full. Consider the precedent: once established, over time these full-time "researchers" will ultimately crowd out tenured educators in future entry-level university hirings--especially if the present faculty remain grandfathered, unaffected, and sold on the institutional savegrace of cheaper staff.

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 (footnote: Note that "zero" clearly means the statistics do not include universities which had ninkisei--for foreigners--before 1997.) . However, 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 an 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 from the Prefectural U of Kumamoto demonstrated, is particularly protective. With the passage of Japan's Freedom of Information Act (情報公開法) in 1999, all ministries are required to have a "Public-Access Information Desk" (情報公開室) which will surrender documentation on request. MoE is no exception. However, the Desk's small staff are not trained librarians, and 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?" The staff did their best, but I spent a full day reasearching and personally asking junior bureaucrats at the 高等教育局 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 dubious, since MoE approves all university faculty in Japan, and thus should have on file in what capacity those people were hired; after all, employment status ("professor" etc.) is published in the 職員録). They would only release data for National and Public Universities. With this caveat, 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, those 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, definite conclusions evade.


This is not all MoE's doing. As administrator of the Blacklist and Greenlist of Japanese Universities, I see university job announcements becoming more sophisticated. Many do not state the position is contracted (in violation of MoE guidelines about giving explicit employment limitations up-front), or when doing so distractingly 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), or explicitly state that in the same job position foreigners get contracts and Japanese citizens do not (cf. Mie, Kyoto Kougei). The most original are those (cf. Ritsumeikan, Kouchi) which avoid language like contracts are for "foreigners"--rather for "Native-speaker Full-time English Language Instructors" (which would make Japanese citizens like me saddled with the wrong native tongue). Others are instituting hybrid systems for full-time foreign faculty (cf. Hiroshima Shudo, Daito Bunka, Doshisha, Nanzan). To be sure, more tenurizing universities join the Greenlist every seasonal update, but a search of full-time job announcements indicates non-ninkisei positions are still diamonds in the rough.


Under the bureaucratic rubric of "enlivenment" (kasseika) and "personnel nurturing" (jinzai ikusei) in its internal documentation, MoE is slowly taking control of a sector up to now 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 more conceivable now than ever that if an educator on ninkisei espouses unsavory views, a quick phone call from the MoE to the Dean, hinting about future administrative favors denied, can result in a contract non-renewal. This informal system of oversight is historically well-established with foreign academics (cf Nat Univ admin guidance of 1992-94, Hall 1998) 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.

1) Arudou, D. (2002) Blacklist and greenlist of Japanese universities (www.debito.org/blacklist.html)
2) Arudou D. (2002) "Education and Employment Status: Why JALT Should Take Interest in the Issues", The Language Teacher, 26(2), rough draft at www.debito.org/jalthokpresentation052001.html
3) Aldwinckle, D. (1999). "10+ Questions for your next university employer," The Language Teacher, 23(7), 14-16. Also retrievable from www.debito.org/univquestions.html
4) Fox, M. H. (2001). "Employment discrimination, foreign women, and SCOEP," TLT, 25(5), 14-15.
5) Fox, M. H., Shiozawa, T., & Aldwinckle, D. (1999). "A new system of university tenure, remedy or disease?" TLT, 23(8), pp 13-15,18.
6) Hall, I. (1998). Cartels of the Mind. New York: Norton.
7) JALT. (1997). Official stance on discrim employment practices (www.debito.org/JALTonsabetsu.html)
8) JALT SCOEP (2001). Recommendation 2001 (submitted at JALT EBM January 27, 2001). www.debito.org/SCOEPrecommendation2001.html
9) 閣議決定(2001)科学技術基本計画、平成13年3月30日発行
10) 大学審議会(2000)「グローバル化時代に求められている高等教育の在り方について」平成12年11月22日発行
12) Gallagher, Korst, Pref U of Kumamoto & van Dresser Cases at JALT PALE Journals 97-02 at www.debito.org/PALE; more resources at www.debito.org/activistspage.html#ninkisei

Ninkisei in Japan's Universities: Symptoms, Effects, and Legal Underpinnings
北海道情報大学 講師 有道 出人(あるどう でびと)
Peace as a Global Language Conference, Itabashi, Tokyo Sept 27, 2002, 1:00-2:30pm


 日本の大学では常勤にもかかわらず外国人教員にのみ任期制を導入している。文部省統計要覧(平成9年)によると、96年度国立、公立、私立大学・短大それぞれの常勤雇用の「外国人教員」数はそれぞれ、1442人、275人、3137人である。文部省に問い合わせたが、その中で任期制に基づいている数は不明である。アイヴァン・ホール著の『知の鎖国』(毎日新聞社、98年)によると、たいていの日本の大学では外国人教員の雇用に関しては様々な制限が加えられている。「日本にいる外国人学者は渡り鳥のままである。実際、短期の「交換」訪問者であろうが、数十年も滞在した者であろうが、短期契約という回転扉にとらわれたままである。」(p.122) その規制には様々な形態があるが、35歳までのような年齢制限、雇用期間3年間などの雇用契約制限、基本給は高いがボーナス無しなどの給与制限が一般的である。これらの雇用条件は外国人教員のみに適用される場合が多く、日本人教員はこのような不利益から解放されている。非常に差別的な雇用契約は過言ではない。ホール氏と私の共同研究によると、殆どの日本の国公立の大学は外国人教員に対して「外国人教師(1年契約)、外国人教員(大抵3年契約)」の条件をつけて常勤者として採用している。しかし、殆どの日本人の大学はその常勤教員に対して任期制度を採っていない。このような雇用制度は永住を希望する外国人にとって大変不利である。例えば、私は北洋銀行に住宅ローンを申し込んだ時、却下の理由が「外国人教員は生活不安定であるから」であった。問題のある外国人教師、教員制度を実施している大学のリストは以下のホームページに挙げてある。


 Hall, I. (1998) 「知の鎖国・外国人を排除する日本の知識人産業」(毎日新聞社)

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