Universities turn to quarters (The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2013)


The Yomiuri ShimbunAn increasing number of universities are planning to review their current semester system with an eye to introducing a quarter system so their students can study abroad in summer.

The universities aim to encourage students to attend summer schools or meetings of academic societies in other countries, which are held mainly between June and August.

To help the universities’ efforts, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has relaxed the Standards for Establishment of Universities on April 1. The standards stipulate academic terms.

Waseda University has already introduced the quarter system in some of its departments. Keio University is planning to introduce the four-term system, and other universities are considering following suit.

Most Japanese universities employ the semester system, which divides the academic year into two terms.

Because classes start four times a year under the quarter system, university officials expect students will have more opportunities to study abroad.

For example, under Keio University’s plan to introduce the quarter system, classes for compulsory subjects will not be scheduled for the second quarter between June and July so students will be able to begin a summer break in June.

An official of the university said, “We can expect more students to study abroad even for short periods, and then later take on the challenge of full-fledged academic programs overseas.”

Keio University will compare the merits of the quarter system with three other options, including the trimester system, and decide whether to introduce the quarter system within this fiscal year.

Meiji University and Rikkyo University are also considering reviewing their academic year systems.

This academic year, Waseda University began phasing in the quarter system in its undergraduate departments and graduate schools.

Only 1.8 percent of the university’s courses are held under the quarter system. Aiji Tanaka, senior executive director of the university, said: “Shortening academic terms is difficult in some courses, such as teacher-training courses.

“Though we didn’t require the introduction [of the quarter system] in all courses simultaneously, more courses will employ it if they can see its merits.”

Under the autumn enrollment system, which the University of Tokyo has announced it will introduce, new students will also have a summer break from June to August, because they officially enroll in spring but their lectures begin in autumn. Hokkaido University, Hitotsubashi University, Kanazawa University and others are considering similar plans.

Japanese students studying overseas peaked at about 83,000 in 2004, but fell to about 58,000 in 2010.

The education ministry has asked universities to improve the situation to strengthen Japan’s international competitiveness.

Under the semester system, one course lasts 15 weeks with one lecture class per week. University students take about 10 classes a week in most cases, but education experts point out that students cannot fully understand the content because they have to learn many subjects simultaneously. Under the quarter system, one course lasts eight weeks with two classes per week, allowing students to intensively focus on a few courses