Colleges of Technology are an often ignored, under-publicized, yet vital, part of the Japanese educational system. Known as Kosen in Japanese, these institutions have provided industry with well-trained mid-level engineers and technicians since the 1960s.
Kosen: An Introduction
The first Colleges of Technology were established in 1962 during the period of Japan's high-speed economic growth. The demand for young, qualified engineers and technicians necessitated government directives establishing an initial 18 Colleges of Technology throughout the nation. At present there are 55 national colleges, five municipal or prefectural public colleges, and three private colleges in the system. Every prefecture, including Okinawa, has at least one school. The vast majority of these schools offer engineering-related studies, but there are also three Colleges of Radio Communication, and five Colleges of Maritime Technology.
Colleges of Technology differ from high schools and universities. Most significantly, Colleges of Technology accept junior high school graduates for a five-year education&emdash;five and a half years in the case of Colleges of Maritime Technology. Students who complete their course of study then receive an associate degree, equivalent to junior college graduation.
These schools also differ from specialized training schools in that training schools purposively provide only job training and job-related skills, whereas Colleges of Technology still require students to be educated in at least a minimum of liberal arts classes.
Colleges of Technology educate only around one percent of the student population in the Japanese higher education system, which also includes junior colleges, special training schools, and of course, universities. Although Colleges of Technology have a predominantly male student body, roughly 20 percent of the students are female—a figure that is increasing. One special feature of the schools is that most of them have on-campus dormitories, although those for female students are rare.
Colleges of Technology have always touted the hands-on nature of their education, and students enjoy making objects such as computers and robots. In fact, these schools are most well known by the general Japanese public for their participation in robot contests aired on NHK television every year. The education at Colleges of Technology involves a great deal of practical training and scientific experiments. The rather personalized nature of education at these schools is made possible by the relatively small number of students—about 1000 per school. Industry has traditionally regarded this education favorably, and 100 percent of students can find jobs upon graduation. This explains why entrance into these schools is competitive, with roughly two applicants for every slot.
Kosen in the Future
Like other institutions in Japan's higher education system, Colleges of Technology face challenges in the twenty-first century. Reforms have been, and will continue to be, made. One change already in place is the introduction of a two-year advanced course. The two-year advanced course allows students to continue their studies at Kosen following the completion of the regular course. Upon completion of the advanced course, students are awarded a bachelors degree equivalent to that of a university. The first advanced course of study was begun in 1992 at two schools, and there are now approximately 40 such small-scale programs. At present, schools offering such a program generally find that slightly under 20 percent of fifth-year graduating students apply and are accepted into the advanced course, while 50 percent of graduates decide to enter the workforce, and another 30 percent continue their studies as third-year students at university. Moreover, the Nagaoka and Toyohashi Universities of Technology have mainly accepted College of Technology graduates since their founding in 1976.
With the development of the advanced course, Colleges of Technology are increasingly seeking accreditation and acceptance of their programs. The majority of these schools have engineering-based educational programs, hence the most commonly sought accreditation is from the Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE). According to the website, JABEE "was founded with the aim of ensuring, by collaborating with academe and industry respectively, and by accreditation under standardized criteria, the international equivalency of engineering education programs to develop engineers provided by Japanese institutions of higher education" (JABEE, 2003). Like many accrediting bodies, JABEE stresses standardized criteria, and most institutions seeking accreditation must alter their programs in order to achieve comply.
Reflecting the priority JABEE places on increasing international information exchange within the field, improving English education for engineering students has become more important. Therefore, English has become an increasingly necessary course of study for students at Colleges of Technology. On the other hand, because JABEE is concerned mainly with standardized criteria, students' TOEIC scores have become the focus of both the accrediting body and the school. Although JABEE is a relatively new organization, founded in late 1999, it has dramatically affected the course of English language education at engineering schools.
Another major change is the privatization of national institutions of higher education. Almost 90 percent of Colleges of Technology are national institutions, so these schools have been privatized as of April 2004. Because of their small size, the schools have been privatized under one collective umbrella organization, but the implications of privatization are the same as at national universities. It is unclear how much freedom Colleges of Technology will actually have under the new system, but it is fair to say that external audits will become more routine, and that the heads of each school will have more decision-making power. This means that finances, programs, and hiring decisions can to some extent be decided locally. For native English-speaking teachers seeking employment, it potentially means a further opportunity that was denied under stricter Ministry of Education control. A look at NACSIS, the quasi-governmental job notices website, indicates that many schools are, indeed, considering the hiring of native speakers.
Colleges of Technology, long an unadvertised, yet crucial, portion of Japan's higher education system, are undergoing various changes to ensure their raison d' etre in the twenty-first century. Their goal is to continue to provide mid-level engineers and technicians, but in the face of pressures associated with a declining youth population and the restructuring of industry and government. In the short term, the prognosis is good, but the success of Kosen in the long term depends on how well they respond to the challenges.
Kongo no kokuritsu koutou senmon gakkou no arikata ni kansuru kentoukai. (2003) Kokuritsu koutou senmon gakkou no houjinka ni tsuite. [(Chukanhoukoku). [Online]. Available: www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chousa/koutou/023/toushin/030201.htm
JABEE. (2003). About JABEE. [Online]. Available: www.jabee.org/english/OpenHomePage/e_about_jabee.htm
NACSIS (Japan Research Career Information Network). (2003). Job Information. [Online]. Available: jrecin.jst.go.jp/index_e.html.
John Nevara first arrived in Japan in 1990. He received his MA from the University of Hawaii. Since 1994, he has been teaching at various universities and colleges throughout Japan. At present, he is a tenured fulltime lecturer at Akashi College of Technology.