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The new Japan

university rankings

have been released

Times Higher Education Japan University Rankings 2017: results

Our inaugural rankings help to identify the institutions that excel in teaching that ensures graduate success. Ellie Bothwell reports

The University of Tokyo has topped a new Times Higher Education ranking of the best universities in Japan, based on the teaching and learning environments that institutions offer students.

The country’s flagship research university takes the number one spot in the THE Japan University Rankings, which was produced in partnership with Japanese education company Benesse, while Tohoku University is second and Kyoto University is third.

The table, which includes almost 300 universities, was modelled on the inaugural Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings, which was published in September 2016.

Like the US rankings, the Japan list is based on four broad “pillars” (resources, engagement, outcomes and environment) that focus primarily on what the institutions offer students.

Overall, the country’s national universities are the top performers in the ranking. Of the 406 universities that THE calculated a ranking for, 73 are national universities, 89 per cent of which make the top 150. In comparison, only 22 per cent of the 288 private universities make the top 150.

The ranking is led by the National Seven Universities – a group of institutions founded by the Empire of Japan between 1886 and 1939, and run by the imperial government until the end of the Second World War.

Along with Tokyo, Tohoku and Kyoto, this alliance includes Nagoya University (joint fourth), Osaka University (sixth), Kyushu University (seventh) and Hokkaido University (eighth).

Tokyo Institute of Technology, founded in 1929 as an institution dedicated to science and technology, is the only outsider to make the top eight, in joint fourth place. It beats all the National Seven universities when it comes to its proportion of international students (10.7 per cent).

Analysis of the data reveals that most of the National Seven feature in the top 10 per cent of the 406-strong group when it comes to their resources (income, research output and students’ scores in the national mock university entrance exam) and reputation among academics, employers and careers advisers, but are held back by their proportion of international students and staff.

Just three institutions stay in the top 10 per cent across all four pillars of the ranking: Nagoya, Osaka and Tsukuba.

Meanwhile, there are seven universities that make the top 100 and are in the top 20 per cent when it comes to the engagement and outcomes pillars, despite the fact that they feature in the bottom 20 per cent for the finance per student metric. These are Doshisha University (35th), Nanzan University (joint 55th), the University of Kitakyushu (62nd), Toyo University (joint 76th), Ryukoku University (joint 80th), Kyoto Sangyo University (88th) and Kanagawa University (joint 89th).

Top 10 institutions in the THE Japan University Ranking RankUniversityPrefecture1University of TokyoTokyo2Tohoku UniversityMiyagi3Kyoto UniversityKyoto=4Nagoya UniversityAichi=4Tokyo Institute of TechnologyTokyo6Osaka UniversityOsaka7Kyushu UniversityFukuoka8Hokkaido UniversityHokkaido9University of TsukubaIbaraki10Waseda UniversityTokyo

View the full results for the Times Higher Education Japan University Rankings 2017

Island currents

Teaching at Japanese universities is “not really serious”, according to Akihiko Kimijima, dean of the College of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.

This is because Japanese citizens are typically evaluated by their peers on the basis of the university to which they were admitted, rather than on their academic performance, he says. And once admitted, most students graduate with little difficulty.

“Japanese universities are traditionally a place for [students to have] free time,” he explains.

Susan Burton, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, recently spent 10 years as an associate professor in several Japanese universities. In her experience, “asking questions in class, questioning the teacher and debating” do not typically feature in the country’s universities. In that sense, Japan’s higher education system “is a perfect system for producing educated and obedient workers for Japan Inc”.

However, Kimijima says that these traditions are gradually changing, and the country’s universities are looking to improve teaching.

A spur for some of this shift has come from the government. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science and Technology now requires all universities to conduct student evaluations, according to James McCrostie, associate professor at Daito Bunka University, where he teaches English as a foreign language. But even if this initiative raises teaching standards, McCrostie points out that it will not necessarily threaten the established hierarchy of universities given that another entrenched characteristic of the Japanese university system is the link between institution attended and graduate job gained.

“Students don’t pick a job: they pick a company, such as Toyota or Sony. To get a job at one of those, you have to get into a really well-known university,” he explains. “If you go to a no-name small, private university, you will work for a no-name small, private company…If you go to the University of Tokyo, you’ll get your pick.”

In a recent opinion article for THE, Akiyoshi Yonezawa, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Tohoku University, complained of Japan’s “sclerotic labour market, in which most companies still prefer to hire fresh bachelor’s or master’s degree graduates from selective universities and train them in-house”.

The University of Tokyo has been ranked Japan’s top research-intensive university in every edition of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings since they began in 2004. It also heads the inaugural THE Japan University Ranking, produced in partnership with the Japanese education company Benesse and published today.

Unlike THE’s World University Rankings, this list of the top universities in Japan does not focus primarily on research performance. Instead, it is modelled on the inaugural Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Ranking, which was published in September 2016 and ranked more than 1,000 US universities and colleges.