Trends in Japan

University of the Air to Expand Scope of Broadcasts to Whole Nation

OCTOBER 29, 1996

60,000 Students
From the fall of 1997 it will be possible to tune in to the lessons of the University of the Air, which broadcasts to people's homes via television and radio rather than having them come to class, anywhere in the country. At present the broadcasting university's lessons can only be received in Tokyo and parts of the surrounding Kanto region, but now the University of the Air plans to expand its area of transmission to the whole nation by using digital broadcasting via a communications satellite (CS).

The University of the Air was founded in 1983 with the objective of giving new learning opportunities to people who have not been able to receive higher education and to adults who want to study but find it difficult to commute to school because of work or other commitments. The University of the Air began accepting students in 1985. It currently broadcasts lessons via TV and radio for 18 hours a day, from 6:00 in the morning, using terrestrial relay stations.

The University of the Air is a single-faculty university, having only a liberal arts department. There are three courses--domestic science, business and social science, and humanities and natural science--with six special subjects. Students can graduate, receiving a bachelor of arts degree, if they study for at least four years and acquire 124 credits. Students who do not intend to graduate can select subjects that they wish to study, from a menu of about 300, and receive lectures in them. The admission fee is 18,000 yen (160 dollars at the rate of 110 yen to the dollar), and tuition is 4,000 yen (36 dollars) per credit.

In September 1995 a research institute of Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the national organization of labor unions in Japan, conducted a questionnaire survey of about 1,400 members of affiliated unions. The survey revealed that among company employees in their twenties and thirties, the ratio of respondents saying that they would like to study at school again if conditions permitted reached around 70% for both men and women. As for obstacles to studying in school, the highest ratio of respondents (more than 60% for men in their early thirties) cited "no time due to busy schedule," followed by "ordinary schools cost too much" and "heavy physical and mental strain of commuting to school." As a broadcasting university that enables people to study at home, the University of the Air certainly meets the needs of these many people who have a strong keenness to study but in practice cannot attend school.

As of April 1996 (the Japanese school year begins in April), the University of the Air had approximately 62,000 students. Company employees accounted for 30 percent of the total, the highest ratio, followed by homemakers and other unemployed persons (24 percent) and public servants (14 percent). So far about 7,000 students have acquired enough credits for graduation.

Nationwide Broadcasts Using Communications Satellite
At the moment the University of the Air's broadcasting area is limited to Tokyo and parts of the Kanto region that can be reached by radio waves beamed from two stations in Tokyo and Gunma Prefectures. For this reason, the university has set up 31 regional study centers around the country, where students outside the broadcasting area can study by video. But these students have to commute to the study centers, so the principal merit of a broadcasting university of enabling people to study at home is lost.

The University of the Air will be able to begin nationwide broadcasting of its lessons by hooking up to the communications satellite, which commenced digital broadcasting in the fall of 1996. The only problem here is that receivers of CS broadcasts will need a special tuner and antenna. More than 10 million households in Japan already have equipment for receiving programs via broadcasting satellite (BS) and are unlikely to want to purchase more. Therefore, the University of the Air also has plans to provide nationwide broadcasting via a new broadcasting satellite to be launched in 1999. If this plan is realized, the University of the Air's broadcasting area will expand to reach every nook and cranny of the country via the three systems of terrestrial, CS, and BS broadcasting.

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