Japanese educators are considering shifting their academic calendar to align with Western universities to ease the exchange of students.
Most Japanese universities begin in April, throwing their calendar out of sync with most colleges in the northern hemisphere, limiting education, employment and internship opportunities for students and faculty.
Discussions on standardizing the Japanese academic calendar have been in the works since the 1980s, but to jump-start the process, one of the country’s highest-ranking institutions, the University of Tokyo, is looking to take the first step.
International students represent less than three percent of the population at the University of Tokyo.
As a national university, the school holds more control over its operations than strictly public universities, including setting its academic calendar.
Yoko Takemoto, media spokeswoman for the University of Tokyo, said the school’s current president pursued the initiative as part of a strategy “to develop students with intellectual toughness and personal resilience and to build a truly global campus.”
“We have begun considering this idea now, because we believe that enhancing international mobility of students is one of the major keys to achieving these goals,” Takemoto said. “We are still at the stage of debating the pros and cons of changing the academic calendar, and whether or not we change it to start in fall is yet to be decided.”
Takemoto added that the biggest challenge in changing the calendar is the resulting economic and social costs of shifting the country’s higher education component by a few months. As most elementary schools, high schools and hiring schedules begin in March or April, an altered university calendar would create a gap in time between graduating one level of education and entering the next or taking up a job.
While GW does not have any formal ties with the University of Tokyo, it operates exchange programs with Akita International University, Kyoto University and Waseda University.
Last year, a total of nine GW students studied in Japan – down one student from the previous academic year. For the last two years, Japan has been the third most popular Asian country among GW study abroad participants. Students who chose to do an exchange at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan began the academic year in mid-October.
“Aligning the calendars may encourage some additional applications [for study abroad],” Director of the Office for Study Abroad Robert Hallworth said.
The University canceled study abroad programs in Japan last spring following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country in mid-March, forcing many international students to evacuate. As a result of the misaligned academic calendars, about half of the students scheduled to travel to Japan had not yet arrived at the time of the natural disaster.
Associate Provost for International Programs Donna Scarboro said the University “is interested in keeping good ties with countries like Japan that have a fascinating history and a strong higher education system.”
“It would make sense to first try to encourage full use of the existing partnerships we have, to maximize our exchange of students and faculty,” Scarboro said. “If we found that we had more capacity, then of course we would look for more opportunities.”