Academic Advisors and Study Abroad Counselors in Japan: Implementing a New Forum for Both to Learn from Each Other
Yoshinobu Onishi, Chiba University, Japan
In recent years, it has become increasingly important for academic advisors in Japan to be adept at advising students who wish to study abroad. Moreover, academic advisors should also encourage students who do not wish to study abroad to do so. Fewer Japanese students have participated in studying abroad than in years past, despite the rapid globalization of Japanese society and the rest of the world.
According to the report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2017), as many as 82,945 students from Japan studied abroad in 2004, while in 2011, only 57,501 did so. In 2014, the number dropped to 53,197, according to the latest statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT, 2017). MEXT aims to ensure a minimum of 200,000 Japanese students study abroad by 2020. To make that happen, MEXT gave huge subsidies every year in the amount of 20.6 billion yen (or 184 million U.S. dollars) to major colleges and universities in Japan for scholarship purposes from 2007 to 2014 (Yoshida, 2015).
What is behind the decrease of Japanese students studying abroad? Many argue there are three major reasons. First, there has been a decrease in the population of younger generations each year. Second, the younger generation is becoming more introverted, and members of this generation tend to show more reluctance about studying abroad when compared with previous generations. Third, the Japanese economy has been shrinking every year, and as a result, many families cannot afford to send their children abroad to study.
Though these plausible reasons are found in every journal and newspaper currently published in Japan, this article rejects them and presents another possible reason. This reason calls colleges and universities to action so that they can develop better outcomes through advising Japanese students who wish to study abroad.
It is a rather easy task to show that the above-mentioned reasons for the drop in students studying abroad, which are believed throughout Japan, are not true. First, though it is true that Japan has experienced a recent decrease in the population of younger generations (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, 2017), the annual difference in students is not as big proportionally as the decrease in students studying abroad over ten years. In addition, the number of college students each year has been comparatively stable during the last decade (MEXT, 2016).
Second, no evidence suggests that the younger generation is, in fact, more introverted than the previous one. On the contrary, dozens of colleges and universities in Japan have started new schools or departments that are labeled either “international” or “global” to attract more applicants, and do so with much success, judging by the number of applications they receive annually.
Third, though it is true that the Japanese economy was shrinking until 2009, since then, and since the current Abe regime took over, every economic indicator—such as the unemployment rate and the GNP—has improved annually. Furthermore, though the amount of subsidies from the government for scholarship was, in total, 3.4 billion yen from 2004 to 2009, the current Abe regime dramatically increased that amount to as much as 17.2 billion yen during 2010–2014. The fact is, however, that the number of Japanese students who study abroad still continues to decrease.
The true reason can be summarized as the progress of diversification and maladjustment to globalized circumstances, which is all about academic advising. So, what happened to the academic advisors who worked for the Japanese colleges and universities? To put it simply, they were unable to catch up with the reality of the situation. Because the needs of the students have become more and more diversified in terms of studying abroad since the early 2000s, the need for academic advisors in Japan increased too much, and unfortunately, it was more than the advisors could handle.
For example, until the mid-1990s, most Japanese students considered the U.S. and the U.K. their only realistic destinations for studying abroad because they all wanted to study English. However, with the rise of the Chinese economy in the mid-1990s, many Japanese students have gone to China to study its languages and culture. This also applies, though to a smaller extent, to other Asian countries—such as Korea and Thailand—and therefore, the destinations for Japanese students to study abroad have become more diversified compared to the 1980s and early 1990s.
Due to rapid globalization and the immense opportunities to learn from institutions abroad, the motivations of Japanese students who study abroad have also changed. Today, some want to study traditional art and filmmaking in Korea, whereas others want to develop advanced techniques in soccer in Spain or in Italy. Others want to learn more about state-of-the-art architecture design in Finland. As a result, the number of Japanese students who studied in the U.S. dropped from 46,872 in 1999 and 2000 to as few as 19,060 in 2015 and 2016 (IIE, 2016).
It is also important to understand that most academic advisors who work for Japanese colleges and universities have not studied abroad themselves. Therefore, they cannot share any international stories with their students. They cannot share up-to-date information about studying abroad with students either, because professional development opportunities in this field are very limited in Japan. This is exactly what the statement “progress of diversification and maladjustment to globalized circumstances” means.
What should be done for academic advisors in Japan? One of the best solutions is to provide them sufficient professional development opportunities in terms of studying abroad. Baker, Brake, and Davis (2017) share that “many higher education professionals are expected to have specific competencies and skills when they begin working with students, but are only able to gain these skills after beginning their career” (para 1). According to a survey of professional academic advisors, 74% consider support for professional development activities the most valuable reward to them over increases in pay (Drake, 2008).
The good news is that Japan has many good teachers who can explain studying abroad, many of whom are professionally certified study abroad counselors and have studied abroad themselves. As of today, the number of these counselors is at least 1,132, though most of them are not currently working at colleges and universities (JACSAC, personal communication, July 19, 2017). For example, some work at private travel agencies, while others work at nonprofit organizations for international exchange. Regardless of their workplace, however, they are all members of the Japan Association of Certified Study Abroad Counselors (JACSAC), established in 2009. JACSAC is the only professional organization in Japan that administers a test to prospective counselors and members and provides a series of regular professional training sessions for certified counselors who pass the test. While advisors are welcome to participate in JACSAC training, most do not because they are not interested in the training, lack the information on training opportunities, or fear that with additional training they would be transferred to a different place in the institution.
The JACSAC training sessions are conducted at least once a month, and the themes include the Travel Agency Act in Japan, the education system in the U.S., a variety of official English tests, and detailed and specific country reports. Professional certified counselors have a number of opportunities to grow in their field, thanks to their daily job functions and JACSAC training programs.
Interesting research was conducted in 2014–2015 by the Japan Association of Overseas Studies (JAOS), which is the parent organization of JACSAC and was founded in 1991. JAOS now contains 65 travel and study abroad agencies, including the Australian Embassy and the British Council in Japan. Research showed that as many as 64,988 Japanese students and young business persons went abroad to study (JAOS, 2016), taking advice from professional and certified study abroad counselors in 2014–2015; approximately 20% of them were high school students. Though the number may partially overlap the 53,197 students who studied abroad in 2014, as mentioned previously in the Education Ministry’s statistics, JAOS insists that the majority of the 64,988 Japanese were independent.
The problem is that academic advisors who work at colleges and universities do not have opportunities to interact regularly with these professional and certified counselors working in the private and nonprofit sectors. They have been segregated from each other. One solution to this problem would be to create a forum in which both academic advisors and certified study abroad counselors can exchange their views and experiences. When that happens, they will learn from each other.
On the one hand, academic advisors will acquire a variety of up-to-date information about study abroad programs in dozens of countries. On the other hand, certified study abroad counselors will learn about the current situation with college students and determine how to incorporate study abroad programs into the university curriculum in a more seamless manner. They will also be able to give advice for degree planning, which is crucial to remain on track for graduation (Malmgren & Galvin, 2017).
The forum could be either an academic or professional association that, for example, holds an annual conference where every member can exchange views and experiences with other members, particularly with members who have different backgrounds. Neither the JAOS nor the JACSAC have published a journal where every member’s personal views and experiences can be included and shared for all other members. Therefore, that should be also one of the expectations for the new forum.
Yoshinobu Onishi, Ph.D.
Chiba University, Japan
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Cite this article using APA style as: Ohishi, Y. (2017, December). Academic advisors and study abroad counselors in Japan: Implementing a new forum for both to learn from each other. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]