Tertiary education in Japan - statistics & facts

Students in Japan can choose from four types of institutions for tertiary education: universities, junior colleges, professional training colleges, and colleges of technology. University usually takes four years for a bachelor’s degree and an additional two years for a master’s degree with, for example, a social science or science major. A doctoral degree generally takes three additional years to complete. Medical or dental degrees require six years of studies and include a medical internship.
Tertiary education in Junior colleges is usually shorter, with an associate degree attained within two to three years. Courses typically include both academic education and technical training for the occupational sector related to health, education, business, among others. In professional training colleges, students can obtain vocational training and a diploma after two years that is directly connected to occupations such as beautician, nutritionist, or tour guide. Colleges of technology provide integrated education of around five years for students with junior high school certificates. At those colleges, students graduate with a diploma in engineering or merchant-marine studies, which is equivalent to associate degrees. Similar to the organization of primary and secondary education in Japan, tertiary schools are categorized into national, public, and private.


There are over 800 universities currently operating in Japan, around 11 percent of which are national, 12 percent are public, and the rest are private institutions. The first university in Japan, The University of Tokyo, was established in 1877. The enactment of the Order of Imperial University in 1887 renamed it to The Tokyo Imperial University and later founded six additional imperial universities to establish higher education and research institutions across Japan. These seven universities were converted into national universities after the Second World War. In accordance with the National University Corporation Act enacted in 2003, all 86 Japanese national universities operate as corporations. In recent years, over 30 percent of the national university budgets are subsidized by grants from the government.
The majority of public universities belong to public university corporations and are financed primarily by municipalities. More than half of these public universities only offer one course, equivalent to “college” in the United States. Most of the revenue of private universities is derived from tuition fees, entrance fees, and entrance exam fees from students, with the rest mainly financed from ‘Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools’ subsidies. Due to their budget structure, private universities essentially focus on education and less on research and development compared to national universities. Consequently, private universities seldom feature on the worldwide university rankings despite national renown for high-quality education.

University enrollment

Each university in Japan has entrance examinations. Based on their grades, students can apply for universities through recommendations by high school principals, self-recommendation, and the results of the general entrance examination. To be admitted to the general examinations to enter national universities, students must first achieve an adequate score from the Common Test for University Admissions. Admissions to public and private universities mostly depend on entrance exams conducted by an individual institution, however, some also accept the score from the Common Test.
The domestic ranking and reputation of the university are considered a significant factor in the job market, and many students compete for places in the highest-ranked universities. It is, therefore, common for students to attend examination preparatory school for a year after high school graduation. Despite the shrinking number of children in the country, student numbers enrolled in universities have remained steady at approximately 2.9 million in the past decade. Yet, as a result of the declining birthrate, student numbers are predicted to dwindle long term. This may present a crucial economical challenge for universities in the future, especially for private universities that are highly dependent on tuition fees.


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