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Frustrated  international academics  sense discrimination


By Suvendrini Kakuchi for University World News

Recruitment of foreign academics in Japanese universities has contributed significantly to higher education internationalisation, but recent research has highlighted cultural gaps and troubling differences in career expectations of foreign teachers in Japan leading to frustration and a sense of discrimination.

Only a handful of non-Japanese have risen to top positions in some private universities, such as Oussouby Sacko, president of Kyoto Seika University, who is from Mali, and Mark Williams, vice-president of international academic exchange at International Christian University, from the United Kingdom.
The language barrier and restricted access to funding sources and networks because important information is in Japanese are among the obstacles cited by foreign researchers and teachers.
Foreign academics also face the insecurity of short-term contracts as universities cut budgets, and being relegated to the periphery due to exclusion from core academic meetings at Japanese institutions.
Dennis Tesorato of the University Teachers Union section of Japan’s General Union, based in Osaka, says more than half the cases they handle are from foreign part-time lecturers requesting stable working contracts.
Some hold two or three jobs in different universities to make ends meet because each of their yearly contracts can cover less than the 20 hours per week required to be eligible for health insurance or other benefits.
“Most of our clients are foreign because they are more willing to fight for better working conditions than their Japanese counterparts,” he explained.
On average, foreign academics represent about 4% of Japanese universities’ faculty. Chinese scholars top the list followed by academics from the United States and South Korea.
In 2018 foreign faculty numbered 8,609, up from 5,763 in 2007, according to the Ministry of Education.
Recommendations ignored
Often the recommendations of foreign faculty are ignored by Japanese institutions, with foreign teachers regarded as ‘temporary visitors’, according to a paper on migrant academics published in January 2019 by Louise Morely of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, Daniel Leyton of Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Chile and Yumiko Hada of the Research Institute for Japan, the UK and Europe, based in Osaka, Japan, and titled “The affective economy of internationalisation: Migrant academics in and out of Japanese higher education.”
Dr Lee, a Korean-American English teacher at a national university was quoted in the paper as saying: “Right now the university is dealing with budget cuts… and I am dealing with maybe less favourable contract renewal conditions.” He adds that the university does not provide an English translation of the contract.
Also quoted is Dr Park, a South Korean lecturer, who said there were areas on the university website for faculty members “but only in Japanese. So, for me it is really hard to search for information.”
A foreign lecturer speaking on condition of anonymity told University World News: “Although I have ideas, knowledge and a network of connections, I’ve rarely been asked to contribute, even when I’ve worked at top global universities [in Japan]. I think this has been largely due to my marginalised status as a contract-based worker, where both academics and universities miss out on valuable opportunities.”
American Professor Andrew Horvat, linguistics expert and professor at the private Josai International University, says the status of foreign faculty in universities depends on how seriously their institution is committed to internationalisation.
“[Having] inclusive policies where foreigners and Japanese professors work as equals to share the goal of internationalisation is important. Japanese universities [that are] only superficially recognising globalisation and employing foreigners without recognising them as equal partners, will fall behind,” he said.
English-language expertise
Futao Huang of Hiroshima University noted that the majority of foreign professors from English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom and United States are employed to teach English dialogue and communication.
“Japanese professors are respected English scholars but generally lag behind in conversation and communication skills. Foreigners, despite their diverse talent, are thus recruited in these subjects, so there is a clear divide between [them],” he explained.
Hiroshi Ota, in charge of internationalisation at the Hitotsubashi University, noted in a paper: “Japanese academic research can no longer be indifferent to the importance of English medium instruction, given the rise of English globally. To cope, the current situation is to recruit foreign scholars especially from Western countries for their English skills and in areas where they are not formidable competition to the majority of Japanese professors.”
Experts say foreign academics are respected for the diversity and innovation they bring to the university, but policies fail to accommodate their talents on an equal basis to their Japanese counterparts.
Bridging role
Sri Lankan Professor Monte Cassim, a founder of the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) and the new graduate business school Shizenkan, favours the recruitment of foreign and Japanese professors who understand Japanese language and culture to play a bridging role in support of international faculty.
“By understanding both cultures – including the more outspoken Western approach to the traditional reticent Japanese way – the academics are important players in university reform,” he said.
APU, which offers undergraduate and graduate courses in English and Japanese, with half the student body from overseas, has among the highest proportion of international faculty employed full time – 48% are foreigners from 22 countries.
“English translation and support are offered regularly to our foreign faculty,” explained Kenji Ito, manager at the APU office in Tokyo.
Ito explained that professors are recruited based not only on their research background but also after passing mock teaching exams where they must display the American-style active learning standards where students are expected to participate actively.
“This is quite different to teaching methods in traditional Japanese universities where the professor lectures and students listen,” he said.