Japanese universities are ditching humanities and social sciences

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Nearly half of Japan's national universities which offer humanities and social sciences will drop the courses after the government asked them to, Times Higher Education reports.

A government request calling for universities to drop their humanities courses to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs” has been accepted by 26 of 60 universities, which will shut down their humanities and social sciences departments.

In a note to the heads of universities in June, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura wrote that institutions should completely shut down the departments, and reminded the universities that they receive government funding, according to education blog Social Science Space.


Two of Japan's top colleges, Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo, have refused to comply with Shimomura's request.

The Science Council of Japan released a statement expressing their "profound concern over the potentially grave impact that such an administrative directive implies for the future of the HSS [Humanities and Social Sciences] in Japan and the very idea of the university itself, irrespective of whether it is privately or publicly funded."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that universities should focus on vocational training and practical research over other kinds of education. The Wall Street Journal writes:

The drive is part of Mr. Abe’s efforts to revitalize Japan, injecting more dynamism and innovation into the economy through a greater focus on research, and improving the competitiveness of its graduates with precisely tailored course work. Many businesses have cut back their training programs and are looking to universities to fill the gap.


It's also part of Abe's plan to land 10 Japanese universities on the list of top 100 universities in the world within the next decade.

An op-ed in the Japan Times was not impressed with Abe and Shimomura's logic. "Studies of literature, history, philosophy and social sciences are indispensable in creating people who can view developments in society and politics with a critical eye," the op-ed reads. "In this sense, Shimomura’s move may be interpreted as an attempt by the government to produce people who accept what it does without criticism."

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