Saki Inoue, Kanazawa University
Academic advising: this term has not been clearly defined in Japanese higher education. The phrase usually refers to faculty advisors who teach freshman seminars and support students’ academic life by having individual meetings, checking class registration information, or communicating about grades. Mostly, the role of an academic advisor is allocated to faculty members rather than specialists, but the faculty advisor system does not function well in Japan (Yamasaki & Tomioka, 2017). Students are not familiar with the system, and most of them do not see their academic advisor other than during seminars.
On the other hand, the need for offering learning support services is expanding due to the increasing rate of enrollment in higher education and the request of quality assurance of students’ learning outcomes from the ministry of education. Teachers or staff who work for learning support are sometimes called academic advisors. Therefore, currently there are two types of academic advisors in Japan. The one is derived from the U.S.'s academic advisor who supports students in terms of class registration and guiding them to graduate, and the other advisor is to help learning itself.
Practices of Academic Advising in Japanese Universities
According to the definition by the ministry of education, academic advising is attentive support for students by faculty members who have consultation or give advice regarding a student’s GPA or class registration situation. Advisors are responsible for students until they graduate (MEXT, 2012, p. 38). Usually faculty advisors are required to have an individual meeting with students at least once a semester (or a year) to check the student’s performance at school.
The problem is that this individual meeting is often held after students are experiencing difficulties, such as low grades or low attendance rates. Moreover, according to the survey by Yamasaki and Tomioka (2017), only 6% of students answered that they will meet their advisor when they have difficulties. In the same survey, 31% of respondents said they never met with advisors outside of the classroom and did not see the necessity of meeting with their advisor. Since faculty advisors are busy with teaching, research, or other school tasks, the priority of advising tends to be low. Also, most faculty advisors are not trained to be an advisor, so it is difficult for them to fulfill the role of academic advisor as the university or the government expect. Furthermore, the quality of advising differs depending on the advisor.
On the other hand, Seki (2011) defines academic advising as comprehensive support which deals with learning assistance, student life matters, academic planning, support to receive scholarships, and career development (p. 98). Academic advising is expected to cover many more areas in Japanese universities. For example, the following statements are the description of an academic advisor or academic advising from three universities’ websites.
There is rising attention on academic advising in Japan since presentation titles including academic advising or academic advisor started to appear in conferences of the Japan Association for College and University Education, a big academic association of higher education in Japan since 2017. Nevertheless, there are multiple ways of understanding expectations toward academic advising.
The Need for Support for Academic Planning in Japan
There is a need for learning support beyond just advising for class registration or academic planning in Japan. One of the biggest purposes of academic advising in the U.S. is to improve graduation and retention rate as introduced by UNESCO (2002). In contrast, the Japanese graduation rate is over 90%, the highest rate in the world (OECD, 2017). This high graduation rate is deeply connected with Japanese job-hunting culture and social pressure. In Japan, more than 80% of freshman enroll directly from high school, and only 2% of them are over 25 years old (OECD, 2017). There is invisible social pressure on students pushing them to enter a college or university at the age of 18 and graduate within four years. Also, Japanese students start job hunting a year before they graduate. Therefore, both companies and universities expect students to graduate in four years, and the educational system is shaped accordingly.
Even though the graduation rate is high, there are other challenges in Japanese higher education. One of them is mismatching: students realize their major is different from what they want to learn after they enter a university. In Japanese admissions systems, most students choose their major when they apply for a university. Once they enter the university, it requires complex procedures to transfer from their school or change majors. In fact, 15% of students who left school entered university again with a different major, which means they took the entrance exam again and repeated the first-year experience course (MEXT, 2014). According to the newspaper survey, the number of students who retook entrance exams from other universities drastically increased in the last 15 years (Onishi, 2013).
The cause of mismatching is often related to how students choose a university in high school. According to a survey, about 42% of students answered that the level of entrance exam was the most important factor when they chose a university (Benesse Educational Research, 2017). In addition, Japanese students tend to avoid taking a gap year since it is regarded as failure, so many students enter a university whose level is appropriate for them without enough consideration of its curriculum.
Under these circumstances, more and more universities have established late specialization programs such as a liberal arts program. In these programs, students have more flexibility of choosing their field of study. Students in these programs need to have enough correct information to make a right decision. The pioneer of implementing liberal arts programs in Japan is the International Christian University (Morikawa, 2011). To support students’ academic planning in late specialization programs, it will be necessary to hire specialists who understand the goals and objectives of the school and curriculum and are able to give appropriate advice on each student.
Kanazawa University is one of the national universities in Japan, and it consists of three major colleges (Human and Social Sciences; Science and Engineering; and Medical, Pharmaceutical, and Health Sciences) and 17 schools under the three colleges. Kanazawa University is one of the examples which incorporated a late specialization program and hired academic advisors. Kanazawa University has started accepting (as of 2018) a group of students who do not belong to any school and choose their major when they become a sophomore based on the first-year experience. In order to support them in choosing their major, the university hired academic advisors and trained them to understand the university curriculum and build connections with staff in different divisions of the university. The advisors visited some universities with similar academic advising systems, such as International Christian University and Temple University Japan Campus, to learn about academic advising. Currently, the main job of academic advisors is to hold freshman orientation for the group, independent consultation meetings with students regarding choosing a school, helping with class registration, and passing on useful information.
Learning support for ordinary students is also included in an academic advisor’s job. The academic advisors plan academic skill seminars and events for language learning or work with peer supporters to help students write, present, and study effectively for various classes. The role of the academic advisor also covers academic planning and learning support.
Since the definition of academic advising has been regarded differently among universities, it is necessary to get together and consider the role of academic advisors within the Japanese education context. Just importing the system or idea from elsewhere does not work, as the research shows. Therefore academic advisors, faculty advisors, and university staff need to consider how to incorporate academic advising in a Japanese university with careful assessment of the current situation.
Assistant Professor (Academic Advisor)
Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Kanazawa University (Japan)
Academic advisor at Sangyo Noritsu University (2018). Retrieved June 1st, 2018, from http://www.sanno.ac.jp/univ/support/academic_advisor.html
Academic advisor at Shimane University School of Law. (2018). Retrieved June 1st, from https://www.lawschool.shimane-u.ac.jp/curriculum/environment/environment_04.html
Academic advisor at Nagaoka University. (2018) Retrieved June 1st, from https://www.nagaokauniv.ac.jp/system/edu/mantoman/
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Cite this article using APA style as: Inoue, S. (2018, December). Various roles of an academic advisor with the increasing needs of Japanese higher education. Academic Advising Today, 41(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]