University Business Collaboration in Japan

University Business Collaboration in Japan

I think most Japanese universities would be bemused by the UK's attempts to bring academe and business closer together. Because in Japan academia and business have always had a symbiotic relationship.

For a start, most Japanese universities ARE businesses. Of Japan's 780 universities, 599 are private and rely on student fees for 80 per cent of their funding. To attract students, a few top-ranking colleges will emphasize research opportunities (especially in science and technology) but ALL will compete to be the best at finding jobs for their students after graduation. Indeed, the percentage of students who have jobs on graduation appears in the annual ranking guides to universities, and anything less than 90% is going to turn away prospective fee payers.

To achieve this percentage, careers departments kick start students' job hunting early in the 3rd year: visiting their seminar classes, registering their interests, and providing training in application processes and interview techniques. They then begin sending students out to company recruitment talks and job interviews in the hope that they will have received two or three job offers before they begin their fourth and final year.

Students with high grade point average scores can also apply through the careers departments to do internships and job experience placements during the vacations, earning extra graduation credits and having some fun. (At one of the universities where I taught, the most coveted placements were as hotel chambermaids at resort hotels in Guam.)

Careers departments also keep in close contact with OB and OG (Old Boys and Old Girls), who are regularly invited back for school events and to alert the department to jobs within their companies. In a hierarchical society, OB and OG who can bring graduates into their company acquire loyal junior supporters while these juniors gain a senior ally in their climb up the corporate ladder. Co-workers who are graduates of the same university form close cliques in the workplace.

In Japan, the old school tie is for life.

Japanese businesses rely on long-term ties and connections, known as 'kone'. So do universities who will employ early retirees from large local companies as special lecturers. These ex-staffers are a valuable resource as they bring with them a lifetime's expertise, and their academic courses are designed with the workplace in mind, especially those in the engineering, business and economics faculties. In return, their former company will take an annual quota of graduating students.

One university where I lectured had links to nearby Toyota, and so attracted those students who wished to join the world's largest car manufacturer. Another employed an ex- Japan Airlines executive whose 'airline business' and 'customer service' seminars were always oversubscribed.

Obviously, boasting good links to companies and to coveted career openings attracts more fee-paying students so universities will emphasize this in their brochures.

Not least because for 99.9% of Japanese students, the whole point of going to college is to get a good job at the end of it, so choosing a college with good connections to the business world is vital. Equally, when businesses have an input into the curriculum they get the workers they need.

Susan K. Burton was an associate professor at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business from 2003 to 2009 and at Bunkyo Gakuin University from 2009 until her recent return to the UK. 

Expand for more