This report describes, through the words of five Japanese teacher-informants, how
one faculty in a Japanese national university is managed and led; how it is coping with
a centralised educational reform process which may, in the most pessimistic scenario,
result in the disappearance of the faculty; and how university teachers within that faculty
view teaching. It is clear that the Japanese Education Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology (MEXT) wields enormous influence and power over the university, mainly
through control of the budget; however at the faculty level there is a leadership vacuum
which one informant describes as anarchy. This gives individual teachers tremendous
autonomy to teach and research how they like. The disadvantage is that there is no
strategic vision for the faculty-this would not, and did not, matter in more stable times but
'reform' is in the air and the faculty needs to adapt and change to survive. It is suggested
that the current 'cultures' of the faculty are ones of 'individualisation' and 'balkanisation'
". . . staff need to move towards a more 'collaborative' culture in which sharing of teaching experiences and a willingness to reflect critically on teaching are the norm."
In order to improve the quality of teaching, I suggest that staff need to
move towards a more 'collaborative' culture in which sharing of teaching experiences
and a willingness to reflect critically on teaching are the norm.
This article concludes by suggesting that although the small number of 'foreign'
teachers among the staff are isolated from day-to-day discussions about reform among
other faculty, they too may be able to play a role in change. As they may have more of a
professional background in teaching than their Japanese colleagues, who are usually more
research-oriented, the foreign teachers' contribution could focus on sharing their
experience(s) of teacher development in order to help improve teaching standards.
Saitama University, just north of Tokyo, is one of the 99 national universities in
Japan. These are state funded and are considerably cheaper than the nearly 400
private institutions. This university has about 8000 students in five faculties: education,
engineering, science, economics, and liberal arts. This report will focus on the liberal arts
faculty where this writer is a full-time, yearly-contracted English teacher, gaikokujin kyoushi,
employed on the 'British Studies' course. Although full-time, the position of gaikokujin kyoushi, literally 'foreign teacher,' is a slightly unusual and vestigial one established to
attract foreign teachers to Japan at a time when relatively few came. As a result the
salary is slightly higher than Japanese counterparts and administrative duties are lighter
(Freeman, 1995). The teaching load is higher, six or seven 90-minute lessons a week as
opposed to four or five for Japanese colleagues, but the teacher is not expected to do
research. This is reflected in lower budgets for books and equipment. There are three
other gaikokujin kyoushi in the liberal arts faculty teaching on the American, French, and
German studies courses; about 60 Japanese full-time tenured staff; one Korean teacher
employed on the same terms as the Japanese staff and about 100 part-time teachers.
There are 800 students in the faculty who can choose subjects from 16 separate courses:
as well as the four already mentioned others include anthropology, philosophy, and
international relations. Students major in one course and take most of their credits in
classes connected to that course. They also have to take a number of compulsory credits
including a language, which is usually English.
Teachers have a great deal of freedom as to what and how they teach. They are
assigned course titles such as: 'English Conversation 1', 'Writing 1' and so on, but beyond
those simple labels it is entirely up to each teacher to devise and deliver a curriculum.
One of the few administrative duties all teachers are expected to perform is to give the
students a grade at the end of the year, but even this very important procedure is left to
the individual to decide the ways and means.
There are no quality controls on individual teachers except perhaps student
recommendations by word of mouth. An official system of student evaluations, however,
was introduced in 2002.
It can be seen from this brief overview that there is a great deal of independence and
autonomy for teachers; in fact it would be possible for the foreign teachers in particular
to go through an entire year without any verbal communication with their colleagues at
all as long as certain bureaucratic forms were completed and handed in on time.
This is also probably the case for Japanese colleagues except for two duties that
foreign teachers are exempt from: one is the bi-monthly staff meeting (kyouju-kai) which
teachers are expected to attend although they do not have to actively participate; and
secondly, Japanese teachers are expected to do their share of routine 'committee work'
such as devising and marking university entrance exams, or, employing and organising
part-time staff. This kind of work can take up a great deal of time and energy. Although
there is much independence for foreign teachers as they do not attend faculty meetings
or work on committees they have, as a consequence, they often lack detailed information
about how the faculty and university is organised.
Even as supposed 'insiders' it is difficult for foreign teachers to describe how a
Japanese national university is managed and led at the local level, and even more difficult
to describe the involvement of MEXT. This knowledge gap is important as Japanese
national universities are currently at the beginning of a reform process, which will have
major implications for all who work in them, including foreign staff (MEXT, 2001).
The rest of this report will describe how five informants perceive the management
and leadership of the liberal arts faculty, how they interpret recent government calls for
educational reform, and what effect this centralised change process is having at a local
level. Finally, the issue of quality of education and the changing role of the university
teacher will be examined with special reference to the place of foreign teachers.
Data collection and analysis
One professor and three associate professors in the liberal arts faculty, and one
associate professor based in the affiliated international student center were given a list
of e-mail questions, which formed the basis for a semi-structured interview. In addition to
these interviews with Japanese members of staff, one unstructured exploratory interview
was also conducted with a non-Japanese doctoral student in the liberal arts faculty.
All the interviews were conducted in English, tape-recorded and transcribed, and then
coded using a 'content analysis' procedure (see Cohen, Manion, and Morrison, 2000
for further examples).
Each informant was given a copy of the interview transcript and an initial report
draft in order to solicit comments which were then used to re-draft this report (this form
of 'triangulation' is called 'member checking' after Lincoln and Guba, 1985). As the
participants, except for the doctoral student, were all given the same question schedule
the content analysis was relatively straightforward with comments falling in to one of
four main categories: influence of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology, educational reform, leadership, and view of teaching. There was some
degree of overlap, particularly between comments about the introduction of change and
the current education reform process.
In the next section each of the four categories will be examined and illustrated
with quotations from the interviews-these are anonymous to protect the identity of the
informants. Rather than having a separate review, extracts from the research literature
will be included where appropriate.
Results and discussion
1. Influence of the Education Ministry
McVeigh (2000), amongst many others (see Arimoto, 1997; and Cutts, 1997), writes
that MEXT exerts a strong central control over universities through a system of taxes,
grants, and subsidies. For four out of five of the teachers this claim was certainly true.
One informant expressed this in apposite if very blunt terms:
It's king for us! We have to obey them. We cannot do anything against their
will. . . the main reason is money.
But aside from direct financial control the Ministry also exerts influence through local
self-censorship. The same informant continues:
Even if the Ministry itself doesn't say anything the university management
always thinks about what the Education Ministry would think and do things in
advance that might please the Ministry.
Though there was no disagreement that MEXT exerts strong financial control, there
was one dissenting view which hinted at the intellectual independence many university
teachers may feel is their right. One informant stated:
I don't feel any influence from Education Ministry. . . nothing, autonomy. Maybe
someone feels such influence-in case of me I don't feel any influence and I
am independent. . . maybe (those) who have to accept budget has to listen to
opinion from Education Ministry but I have never been in that place.
As Handy (1993) describes in a discussion of the cultures of organisations this
particular teacher would appear to fit the:
. . . stereotype of a person-oriented man (sic) operating in a role culture. He
does what he has to, teaches when he must, in order to retain his position in
that organisation. But essentially he regards the organisation as a base on
which he can build his own career, (and) carry out his own interests.
And foreshadowing one of the issues that is touched on below Handy adds,
"Individuals with this orientation are not easy to manage. There is little influence that
can be brought to bear on them" (p. 191).
In sum, apart from one very independent minded teacher, all informants confirmed
that MEXT wields tremendous power over national universities, either directly through
financial control or through university managers anticipating what it is they feel will please
the Ministry. This centralised influence can most obviously be seen in the hiring of new
staff or the introduction of new procedures which must gain Ministry approval. Indeed the
Ministry provides "senior administrative officers to each national university to mange their
fixed line-item budget, staffing and other regulated business" (Arimoto, 1997, p. 202).
This bureaucratic control is even more in evidence in the next section about reform of
the national university system.
2. Educational reform - Dokuritsu Gyousei Houjinka (DGH) and the Toyama Plan
MEXT steers education reform through a number of permanent councils including the
'University Council' (Okana and Motonori, 1999). Since 1997 there have been a number
of debates initiated by the council about how to reform national universities, which have
been, at least in the eyes of the press, "long criticized for their closed nature and low
international competitiveness" (Asahi Shinbun. Nov. 20th, 2001). The proposals, called
dokuritsu gyousei houjinka (change to independent administrative institutions) include
a plan, named after the MEXT Minister Atsuko Toyama, to focus funding on the top thirty
As has been the case with previous change, vague policy measures, in this case
the 'Basic Law for Independent Government Agencies, July 1999' (Yamamoto, 2001),
have been introduced but it may be some time before the 'intricacies of the system'
are worked out (Fox, Shiozawa, and Aldwinkle, 1999, p. 13). These proposals are still
unclear and as a result university managers and teaching staff are having to interpret
what the reform plans may mean and are unsure as to how they should act.
In the section below are comments from the teachers as to what they think the
reasons for this reform are, how they think the liberal arts faculty should respond, and
some examples of practical measures that have already been taken. The discussion then
focuses on the category that evoked the largest number of comments-the emotional
reactions of staff to the reform proposals. These range from quite positive to ones of
Teachers' interpretations of the Education Ministry's motives for reform
There seems to be a consensus that one of the main motives for reform, if not the
main one, is economic:
Everything is very commercially oriented, very economic minded.
DGH is the means to reduce the number of government officials. . . after the
collapse of the bubble economy (the) Japanese government has been forced
to reduce the national budget.
As well as being a way to save tax payers' money, reform may be seen as a way of
changing the way university teachers do their jobs by, for example, weeding out 'lazy' teachers:
It is (a) general feeling in Japan that university teachers are so lax and. . .
should be straightened or something like that. That's sort of similar what
happened in the 1980s to the JR workers, railway workers, they were being
bashed and exposed to media, quite critically, up to a certain amount quite
One way in which budgets can be reduced and teachers improved is through
'liberalisation' and 'marketisation' of the national university system, as has been the
trend throughout the 1980's and 1990's in many Western countries (Goodson, 2001):
. . . when Saitama University changes to DGH they can get budget from the
Education Ministry as before, plus (the) university can earn money, can do
business more frequently, more freely than before. . . can raise funds without
any permission from the government. . . and based on the evaluation the
government (can) change the financial support to the universities. . . when the
performance gets good the finance will increase and (when) performance is
bad so financial allocations will become less.
The focus of the Toyama plan is to allocate more funding to the 'top 30' national
institutions than the rest-this will be based on three broad areas: research, education,
and contribution to society. Although it is unclear what criteria will propel an institution
into this top level it does seem that it is research results rather than quality of teaching
that will be deemed more important, and that business and industry connected areas of
study will take priority over others. One respondent commented:
There are ten areas - from the first to the seventh they have life science,
mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, information technology, mechanical
science, civil engineering. These areas are divided into many compartments
but they have only one human science and one social science.
University responses to the reform plans
One interpretation of the reforms is that universities will be encouraged to create
partnerships with business and industry to raise funds, through joint projects, and to
produce more graduates with skills that business and industry need. Satou, (1997, quoted
in Fox et al, 1999) commenting on earlier proposals to limit the number of tenured teachers,
sums up this attitude clearly, 'the country needs. . . less theory conscious scholars, more
responsible engineers and practical businessmen' (p. 15). Saitama University has
responded to these kinds of pressures by creating, as one respondent said:
a local collaboration research centre. . . to coordinate collaboration works
between universities and private companies and organisations so they can do
As Arimoto (1997) points out, it is interesting that serious student protest in the
1960s was one reaction to such cooperation as it was seen as compromising academic
autonomy. Now such joint ventures are to be encouraged. Within the liberal arts faculty
one response to the perceived need to improve research and to become more 'business-oriented' is the recent introduction of a post-graduate school of cultural design, which does
have as one of its aims the education of professionals such as, for example, museum
curators or environmental designers. In addition, there are a number of formal projects
that staff have been involved in, such as a video advice system for linking doctors and
ambulance crew, and a partnership with London University researching museum visitor
behaviour. However, there is probably a limit to such potentially commercial or prestigious
partnerships, and it may be difficult, if not impossible, for many liberal arts courses to
create financial links with local businesses and industry. Instead the faculty may be wise
to develop more examples of 'grassroots' cooperation in which teachers are collaborating
both across faculties and with the local community on new creative projects, such as
introducing an international student theatre group to the Saitama area. A respondent continues:
(Those) who are doing those collaborations are the young generation,
young people, 30s and early 40s. We see the pressure from outside. I think
this is (a) good opportunity to pioneer the new area, the new field, or to
make the university more open to the local community, to cross the rigid old
boundaries. . . those kinds of things have never happened before.
The impact of the DGH and Toyama plan is still unclear. Most informants felt that
as the university became more independent, it was important to forge links with local
communities, industry and residents.
It was felt that one of the main thrusts of the reforms was to generate funds and
research through partnership projects, which are more viable for faculties such as science
or engineering; but there is a role for liberal arts through collaboration and innovation.
This interpretation sounds very positive, but there were also many wary comments
about the impact of the proposed changes – some were at best cautious and many
were extremely pessimistic.
Emotional reaction of staff
Fullan (1999) notes a number of common reactions to change including the inevitable
accompanying anxiety; however, it seems there is little opportunity in the Japanese
process of university reform for any anxiety amongst teachers or other staff to be
acknowledged and contained. The informants noted some positive reactions from both
themselves and their colleagues, but many remarks revealed that large numbers of staff
are pessimistic or even in a state of denial that they need do anything, as these
respondent comments reveal:
Their response are quite negative, very defensive ones and quite miserable
and they just build up the walls and fortify themselves, digging a trench.
Conversely there were many positive statements about the potential of reform
because, particularly for younger teachers, this is an opportunity for real improvement
of a rapidly stagnating system. Note the tone of these comments:
It's too late, I think it's too late for Saitama University to survive and many, many professors feel that.
I need not any help outside. I need not reach out to other world. I'm too old to do that (laughs).
Of course there are quite a few teachers who view these reforms as positive
things and we've got to do. . . these things.
. . . more than two thirds. . . are quite eager to change attitude(s) of university,
of our faculty, both in research and in education. There is a group who are. . .
holding meetings in which. . . they discuss how to improve education.
Now quite a few of us (are) interested in educational aspects, teaching
aspects - that's been happening in (the) last few years.
Three informants described the existence of a small group of teachers within the
faculty who had started to meet to discuss teaching issues, to exchange advice, and to
give each other teaching tips. That may sound very normal practice in other educational
cultures but actually it is extremely rare in Japanese universities for staff to even discuss
their teaching informally, never mind do something as threatening as observing one
another. One informant expressed this in a very colourful manner:
University professors are complete amateurs about educational skills so they
must improve their teaching skills (but there) is no such kind of system. . . if
I try to observe (an)other professor's class that professor will be very much
nervous. . . and in extreme case will (think) 'he must be a spy!'
It is very encouraging to see that the threat of change is producing concern amongst
some teachers to examine educational issues and this issue will be discussed again in
the section below on views on teaching. But realistically this movement is probably very
minor, as one forthright informant observes:
Some concerned professors are discussing about quality of teaching and
education, but many professors are not so much interested, including me!
Overall it seems that many teachers are either cautiously positive or very negative
about the impact of the reform proposals with some, of course, seeing both opportunities
and problems, as this informant remarks:
I think there are things that should be welcomed in this plan because the budget
system in national universities is so rigid. . . we can spend money. . . on facilities
but we can't give scholarships. . . and if we become more independent and
autonomous we can do that and actually I'm looking forward to that. . . but on the
other hand if we become too free then the university professors have to spend
more time on funding. . . on management. . . or recruiting students.
But whatever reactions teachers may have it seems that the emotional effect of
these proposals is not being addressed yet. This may be a mistake in view of much
recent scholarship on the importance of 'emotion' in professional growth and the need
to understand the importance of 'emotional health' for the long-term welfare of teachers
(Day and Leitch, 2001, p. 403).
Kelly and Nobuhiro (1993) claim that the social organisation of Japanese universities
parallels that of a family with increasingly smaller groups of sub-families, such as habatsu
or gakubatsu, present at the faculty level. The ties that bind staff together in these small
groups may be that they graduated from the same university, or that one particular
professor has a number of 'disciples'. The existence of such cliques can benefit the
university in giving a sense of cohesion and loyalty but can also lead to feuds and
nepotistic 'old boy' (usually male) networks. Within the liberal arts faculty it is clear that,
unlike other faculties, such cliques do not exist; however, for several informants this was
viewed as a cause for regret as their existence might give some much needed direction
to the faculty. Some voiced comments such as:
As far as the faculty of liberal arts is concerned there's no such thing as habatsu –
that's why we are weak because we don't have any organisation.
So where is the leadership? Where are the individuals responsible for providing
vision and strategy? The university has a President or Chancellor, but it seems that not
for some time will this post-holder be able to exercise any real power. One teacher remarks:
At university level (the) Chancellor now has much more authority on finance. . . the
Chancellor can decide how much he can give to which departments. . . but still (in)
this university (the) Chancellor distributes money as he (has done in the past).
Each faculty also has a Dean, a position rotated amongst senior staff, but this post
too appears symbolic. There are a few individuals among the full-time staff whose ideas
are listened to with respect, but they seem unable to provide any strategic leadership
perhaps, ironically, as a result of the extremely democratic nature of the faculty meetings
and because of the lack of cohesion or sense of purpose amongst competing courses.
Hence in the words of two teachers:
(the leadership is) chaotic! That's the problem. . . we cannot devise (a)
systematic educational system, we cannot make consistent policy for the
faculty's development or faculty's direction.
Anarchy! I don't feel any central power here. . . I don't feel any leading
person. . . we have no opinion leader - always 'tasuketsu' majority against or for
-democracy. . . democratic anarchistic!
This form of anarchy has caused problems in the past with at least one failed attempt
to re-organise the faculty to overcome the disadvantage of the large number of small,
diverse courses. One teacher observes:
Our faculty is quite complicated because there are sixteen courses and no specific
focus. . . so we tried to re-organise into two parts or four parts. . . but at that time
the area studies courses: British Studies courses, American Studies courses,
French, German and Russian Studies they're not happy about those things
and they objected - so the re-organisation is still going on. . . the conflict(s) are
there, exposed, and everybody knows that.
The liberal arts faculty is by no means unique in its inability to change. Yamamoi (2001)
claims that only 20% of faculties in Japanese universities had improved their management
efficiency and effectiveness in response to the 1991 revised law on 'Standards for the
establishment of universities'. Goodson (2001) argues that when contemplating change
'change agents' must look at the historical context in which the change process will take
place and take account of the participants' 'story of purpose' otherwise any change is
unlikely to be successful in the long term. However, it is unclear how even the most open
and skilful change agent can overcome the bitterness felt by some, as this teacher-informant states:
(A teacher) proposed some plan but nobody listened to him, that he felt, and
then he shut up and he said he wouldn't collaborate to any proposal – to any
proposal, do you understand? To anything!
Such historical conflicts continue as teachers with less popular courses feel
increasingly under threat. One informant continues:
. . . they do not want to reduce the researchers of literature. . . they feel much
worried about their future. . . I think we have to get more English teachers in
place of French teachers or Russian teachers but we cannot because they are
It may be useful to look at resistance from a theoretical view. Day (1999) summarises
Hargreaves' (1992) model of school cultures in which there are four broad forms:
'individualism', 'balkanization', 'collaboration', and 'contrived collegiality'. Although
based on schools in Canada, this model also seems applicable to other contexts. Day
describes an individualist culture as reflecting "habitual patterns of teaching behind closed
doors" (p. 78), but does not necessarily view this negatively, claiming such privacy can
give teachers much needed protected time and energy. However, he warns that "some
teachers' life histories, training, and organizational contexts teach them that privacy is a
safe option. This is particularly so in reform contexts" (p. 79). Such a context of isolation
may lead to resistance to change and can be exacerbated when individualist teachers
also work in a balkanized school culture where, as one informant comments:
Teachers will identify with and be loyal to the group rather than the school as a
whole. Groups will compete for resources, status and influence in the school.
Collaboration will occur only if it serves the interest of the group (p. 79).
This description certainly seems apt for many courses in the liberal arts faculty. Day
claims that in such cultures teachers cannot really develop professionally and that it is
only in the truly 'collaborative' culture that development will continue – where development
means not only a concern with short-term practical issues of teaching but where "critical
reflection and experimentation are the norms" (p. 81). It is unlikely that such a culture can
develop soon in the liberal arts faculty but a useful half-way house may be to develop
'comfortable collaboration' or 'contrived collegiality' where the "prime aim of teachers is
to develop and sustain camaraderie on a personal level" (p. 80). This would be a good
beginning in a faculty where there is little information flowing between courses and
outright hostility in some areas.
Promisingly, there have been recent examples of cooperation and compromise
emerging which are positive indicators for the future, and which may serve as models
of contrived collegiality for future reform. One instance is the way in which the faculty
introduced the previously mentioned post-graduate course on cultural design is echoed by this informant:
Many younger associate professors belong to the group and we discussed so
many times and changing and modified plan. . . but we managed to overcome
hard time(s) and at last we've achieved some reform. Yes I think now it was
totally a good process. . . until now there was no case similar to the situation. . .
because until recently there was no chance to make a group for reform, for
thinking about the system but DHG come (and) we happened to feel worried.
This way of working is now being replicated by the formation of another group to
examine the future of the faculty and to respond to DGH demands. This group of teachers
will need to use all their creativity and vitality to overcome the conflicts of the past and to
encourage those teachers most under threat to encompass reform. One area in which
they will need to make progress is to improve the quality of teaching.
4. Views of teaching
The view of university teachers as first and foremost 'scholars' rather than educational
experts (Kelly and Nobuhiro, 1993, p. 161) was certainly upheld by this informant:
University teachers are just happy to do their own research and (a) university
teacher thinks that research matters and that education or teaching is not their business.
The reason for this, apart from an individual preference for research, is that staff are
hired and promoted based on the articles and books they have produced. There is little or
no emphasis placed on teaching ability. For many their 'laissez-faire' attitude towards their
students learning may be a result of the Confucian belief that it is the "students' duty to
learn" (Kelly and Nobuhiro, 1993, p. 162) rather than anything to do with the teacher:
(The) definition of (a) good teacher. . . depends on personality of the students –
good students can study against the wind.
On the other hand, there may be pragmatic as well as philosophical reasons for
teachers not to care too much about classroom skills. It is not uncommon for university
teachers to pitch their lectures towards the brightest students or towards those that
exhibit the most interest. In this way it is hoped that students who cannot follow such
lessons will drop out leaving a manageable number behind. One teacher expressed
sympathy with this view by stating:
If you teach a classroom of 50 people who are not at all interested but have to
take the credits then it's a torture.
However, as a result of changing demographics teachers may no longer be able
to teach in their traditional ways and will need to be more flexible in their approach to
students. The declining birth rate has meant that the pool of university-level students is
shrinking, and as a result it is becoming easier and easier for students to enter universities
even though their examination results may be extremely low (Mulvey, 2001). This is
causing profound problems amongst some higher education institutions, particularly for
'lower ranked' private colleges whose students, and therefore funds, are disappearing.
Numbers are not yet declining at the relatively prestigious national universities, but
teachers perceive standards are. One teacher commented:
The level of students is getting lower. . . so in many universities they have
to provide those students with supplementary classes at high school level
in mathematics or physics. Those people who are involved in these type
of supplementary classes can't avoid thinking about what is a good way to
educate these people. . . but if you accommodate those students then you have
to lower and lower the level of your university education - is that the right thing
Is it right to lower educational standards? It is probably the case that until recently
only a small number of national university teachers have reflected critically on this issue,
but declining student levels, rising expectations amongst students as consumers, and
external pressure from MEXT (Arimoto, 1997) do seem to have created momentum
amongst some teachers to reflect on educational quality, as this comment suggests:
We have to be much more aware who is not so good, or who might be
dropped. . . you have to make sure that everybody can get some improvement
academically. . . everybody feels like that. . . so that makes us to talk among the
teachers a bit more than before.
Foreign teachers in the university are likely to be particularly motivated to work with
other staff to improve teaching levels-they are primarily language teachers for whom
having a wide repertoire of classroom methods, skills, and experiences is extremely
important in being able to maintain a long-term career. However, at the moment these
teachers are isolated, and this remark attests:
We don't see you as our colleague probably (laughs) unfortunately. . . sort
of assistant workers from overseas. . . when the strawberry picking season
finishes they return to their own home.
Although tongue-in-cheek, this comment probably has much truth in it. As Wordell
(1993) observes, 'It is wise for foreign teachers not to fool themselves into thinking they
are important' (p. 153). This is not just a Japanese phenomenon – Johnston (1997)
concludes that language teaching in almost any country 'can be an unstable, marginalised,
impermanent occupation' (p. 707); nor is it just the case that only foreigners are outsiders,
as Japanese part-time teachers of all subjects, upon which the universities are absolutely
dependent, are also extremely isolated and vulnerable.
Five teacher informants in one Japanese national university were asked their views
on leadership and change. It is clear the university is under the enormous influence and
central government control, which as well as pulling purse strings, 'sets standards, gives
accreditation, and monitors operations' (McVeigh, 2001, p. 31). There appears at the
level of the liberal arts faculty no real strategic vision or direction, but rather an anarchic
situation with a large number of small fiefdoms either fighting to preserve their own
territories, or at best politely ignoring each other. The few attempts to pull these various
courses together have left long lasting and seemingly irreconcilable scars. Although the
faculty must change to survive in an increasingly competitive educational culture, the
recently initiated process of reform, dokuritsu gyousei houjinka, is creating worry and
anxiety amongst many teaching staff. A lot of teachers are too set in their ways or too close
to retirement to initiate new methods of working, but for a number of younger teachers,
the three strands of reform bring opportunities for renewal and improvement. Some are
cooperating closely with each other on new and innovative research projects; some on
projects to link the university more closely with the local community; and, although small
in number, others are meeting regularly to help each other become better teachers and
to help their students become better citizens.
It is suggested that it is in the area of improving teacher quality that 'foreign' language
teachers could be best placed to contribute to the reform process. Although marginalised,
foreign teachers have teaching knowledge and expertise that could complement the
strengths of more research-oriented colleagues, and collaboration between the two could
help all react positively to the challenges of changing the Japanese university system. At
the very least the creation of small groups of teachers giving each other mutual support
and encouragement may go some way to overcome the current 'individualisation' and
'balkanisation' of the faculty, and move it towards a genuine 'collaborative' culture in
which real improvements in educational quality can be made.
"Although marginalised, foreign teachers have teaching knowledge and expertise that could complement the strengths of more research-oriented colleagues, and collaboration between the two could help all react positively to the challenges of changing the Japanese university system."
- I have learnt from my colleagues a great deal about how the university works (or
does not) and have come to realise both how little I knew before and how much
more I need to find out, particularly about how DGH is referred to in Japanese
publications-that omission is a major weakness of this report. I would like to
thank my fellow teachers for taking the time and trouble to answer my questions
in such an honest, forthright, and refreshing way.
- When reading literature on 'school effectiveness and improvement' (see
MacGilcrist, Myers, and Reed, 1997; and Reynolds, Bollen, Creemers, Hopkins,
Stoll, and Lagerweij, 1996) and that on change in schools (Hargreaves and
Fullan, 1998) I found that these Western approaches to change in primary
and secondary education are completely at odds with a Japanese university
environment which has no real concern to track student progress, or to examine
the quality of teachers and teaching. Instead there are specific Japanese cultural
influences that help to understand what goes on inside a university (see Cutts,
1997), and just as important are local norms and values that have been shaped
by successive communities of teachers. I have come to understand that it is
true that no school, or even course within a faculty, is the same (MacGilcrist et
al, 1997); and that, as Fullan (1999) points out, there is no one single theory of
change. All involved in change eventually have to work this out for themselves,
but it is better and more productive to do this with others rather than alone.
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