IVORY TOWER GOES DOWNTOWN:
Workers Embrace Postgrad Programs in Urban Centers
FEBRUARY 28, 1997
A growing number of universities are opening the doors of their graduate schools to people with full-time jobs. To allow people to keep their jobs while pursuing academic studies, they are holding classes in the evenings and on weekends, and some have set up classrooms in centrally located office buildings. These graduate schools have become popular due to a matching of needs. The universities want to shore up their student body as the college-aged population declines, and many workers hope to acquire new skills to keep up with changes in society.
Chubu University, located in the suburbs of Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, opened an "annex" in the heart of Nagoya's business district in April 1996 for nighttime, postgraduate classes on management information.
Housed on two floors of a conveniently located office building, the annex comprises five large classrooms, four smaller rooms, and a library. Of the 16 enrollees in its initial year, 10 held full-time jobs. One male student in his fifties who lectures at a junior college commented that he enrolled because he needed to make a systematic study of management theory for a class he was going to be teaching. And a computer programmer in his thirties said that although he uses advanced technology on the job, he did not want to lose touch with the latest developments in information technology.
Osaka University has had a "downtown" graduate program on public policy since 1994. The course is held on the ninth floor of an office building near Shin-Osaka Station. Classes are held at night and on Saturdays, and the 30-odd seats are usually filled with suit-clad students on their way home from work.
Of the 133 students in the concentration, more than 30 have full-time jobs. "Our working students must devote any spare time they have to studying," an official of the universitiy's administration said, "and they are all very enthusiastic about their course work."
Hitotsubashi University, meanwhile, will "return" to its birthplace when it launches a new graduate school in April 2000 in Hitotsubashi, Tokyo, where the school was located until it moved to suburban Kunitachi in 1930. Many alumni had been urging the national university to open a business school, and the new campus will offer concentrations in two business-related disciplines: (1) international management and finance and (2) legal and public policy.
Keio University's graduate school of management, meanwhile, offers lectures at an office building in the bustling Akasaka district that business workers who are not enrolled in a degree program can attend.
The United States is a world leader in continuing education. And people who pursue postgraduate studies while working full time, enrolling in nighttime and correspondence programs (including courses offered over the Internet), are said to outnumber those who quit their jobs to attend daytime graduate schools. This is ascribed to the fact that acquisition of skills is an important factor in advancement.
Since around 1990, more graduate schools in Japan, too, have been offering courses for working people, scheduling lectures at night and on weekends and eliminating scholastic aptitude exams as a requirement for admission.
According to the Ministry of Education, the number of graduate schools offering nighttime classes for people with daytime jobs numbered 21 in 1989. Of the total, 17 were public universities. In 1996, the figure jumped to 139 schools, of which 76 were public. While the ministry does not keep precise statistics on the number of "downtown" classrooms, officials predicted that such programs would continue to increase.
One factor behind this rise is the declining birthrate, which has meant fewer daytime students. The number of 18-year-olds peaked at 2.1 million in 1992, for instance, and by the year 2000, it is expected to fall to around 1.5 million. A decline in the number of college-aged youths will seriously affect the financial stability of colleges and universities.
Many college graduates who have moved into the business world, on the other hand, are hoping to return to school for additional study. They hope to reorient their outlook in the light of the changes that have taken place in the economy, which is now characterized by slower-paced growth and growing international competition.
Many companies, moreover, are reexamining their traditional personnel practices, such as lifetime employment and seniority-based pay, and are giving increasingly greater weight to personal ability in such decisions as hiring, placement, promotion, and salary.
Many workers--both male and female--have thus come to feel that unless they acquire specialized skills or knowledge by the time they are in their mid-thirties, they will not be able to get ahead in their workplaces.
A research institute affiliated with a leading bank conducted a questionnaire survey of college-grad workers in February 1996 and found that 90% of respondents expressed an interest in attending a graduate school while they worked.
The most often-cited reasons were the desire to learn new technologies and acquire new skills and the belief that higher academic credentials would lead to more attractive positions.
Universities are not tripping over themselves to offer postgraduate programs for working people just yet, however. The small enrollment and high rents make opening such schools in downtown business districts an expensive proposition. The reason such programs are increasing despite these obstacles is because they are believed to boost the image of the university .