A government panel on Monday proposed the creation of higher education institutions offering vocational courses to address the need for specialists in sectors such as information technology (IT) and tourism.
Teisuke Kitayama, who heads the Central Council for Education, submitted the panel’s recommendations to Hiroshi Hase, the education minister. The education ministry will prepare to amend the law so that such schools can open as early as April 2019. It will be the first time in more than half a century for a new category to be added to university-level education. The new institutions, dubbed specialists’ universities, will bear university status. But they will be bound by special rules, such as requiring business practitioners to account for at least 40 percent of the full-time teaching staff.
The proposal was compiled following calls from the business sector to nurture more specialists for growing industries. It is unclear how the new education institutions will be able to differentiate themselves from existing universities and colleges.
It is also unclear how many institutions there will be. But in recent years, universities, junior colleges and high schools are putting more emphasis on nurturing specialists. And they are simultaneously facing tough competition for students as the nation’s population shrinks. In light of this, some education council members are skeptical about the rationale for setting up new institutions. Because they will be eligible for new subsidies, existing vocational schools, which do not receive state subsidies, may want to switch over to the new status, a senior education ministry official said. But existing universities and junior colleges that already receive the subsidies would not stand to benefit, the official said.
New institutions equivalent to existing colleges will offer four-year courses leading to a bachelor’s degree, while those equivalent to junior colleges will have courses of two or three years in duration and will grant associate degrees. All students will earn at least 30 to 40 percent of their credits through practical courses and exercises at companies.
The proposal stated that more specialists are needed in growing industries, including agriculture, IT and tourism. For example, it said, there is a need for farmers who can single-handedly harvest, sell and process their products. The council also proposed that the government set guidelines for third parties to evaluate private-sector certification tests and build a platform to promote lifelong learning using information and communications technology.
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