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Taking it to the Next Level: Higher Education in Japan

Anyone who has come to work as teacher, or in any other white-collar professional role in Japan will tell you, a university degree is vital. This isn’t merely a preference from overly fussy employers, it is actually an integral component of Japanese immigration law.

In a concerted attempt to maintain a tight grip on their immigration quotas, the Japanese Immigration Bureau mandates that anyone wishing to take up a professional role in Japan must have either a university degree, or a minimum of 3 years of verifiable, professional experience in their chosen field.

Thankfully, in the case of English teachers like myself, any old degree will do, and it is not necessarily required that one has a teaching related degree. My journalism degree has some use after all!

Of course in this day and age, a degree is the gateway to Japan and indeed to EFL or ESL teaching in many countries. However, if you ever wish to actually become a fully-fledged school teacher, or move into a different industry in Japan, chances are a mere BA or Bsc Degree will not cut it. Your degree may be in need of an upgrade.

Of course, in the case of teaching, one could always return to their country of origin and work away for a couple of years to acquire a teaching credential and the requisite work experience required to validate such a credential.

However, if you are like me, you’ll probably call Japan home, and feel no desire to return to your country of origin.

Photo : mrhayata on Flickr

With that being the case, there are a few other options that one can utilize.

One option is to pursue a master’s degree, the next “level up” as it were from the standard bachelor’s degree required to enter Japan.

If you are an English speaker living in Japan, there are a number of ways to pursue this.

I’m not going to lie, university in Japan is expensive, however you structure your studies. Scholarships and other funding sources for studying in Japan as a foreigner are few and far between. In short, you’ll need savings, and lots of them. Full-time study at a mid to high-tier Japanese university will set you back something in the region of 2-3 million yen per year.

With this in mind, for many foreigners already living in Japan, part-time study or distance learning are more viable options. So let’s look at those in a bit more detail.

Many universities in Japan have realized in recent times that in these economically austere times, those who wish to pursue further studies are opting to do so whilst maintaining a work/life balance. Thankfully, an increasing number of institutions are more than willing to accommodate this.

“Oh, but I can’t speak, read or write Japanese well!” is the common lament from potential students to these institutions.

Well, you need not worry, with the twin goals of improving Japan’s currently woeful English literacy and fluency levels, and an increasing awareness of the demand for academic courses delivered in Japan with an international focus, many of the top institutions across Japan such as Waseda University, Ritsumeikan University and numerous others are offering Masters courses on a variety of subjects, delivered in the evenings and on weekends.

I would recommend that you google the local universities in our area of Japan and then see what courses are of interest to you. Bear in mind, that even though the courses are administered part time and as such take longer to complete, the overall cost of the total degree will still be roughly equal to a full-time academic degree course.

As always, it is important not only to budget your finances accordingly, but also your time and your workload. Many people make the mistaken assumption that because a course is part time that it will somehow be easier than a regular master’s course. This is not the case and you can expect to be challenged both mentally and academically throughout your studies.

For some of us of course, traveling to a university to study, even on a weekend, may not be a viable option. I used to live in rural Okayama, where the nearest accredited university would have been more than 2 hours by train in each direction. Not exactly on my doorstep!

Photo : mrhayata on Flickr

Thankfully, online study, a growing trend for several years now globally, is finally starting to take hold in Japan too. If you are “out in the sticks” somewhere, there are still a number of courses, delivered in English that one can pursue exclusively online.

However, since you are in a rural area, it is very important to check that you have a sufficiently powerful and stable internet connection. Contrary to some may tell you, online study is not an easy option, and isn’t just a case of reading pdfs of textbooks, writing up an essay or two per month and then submitting them. It is far more complicated than that.

You will be expected to partake in online discussion forums, video conferences, as well as listening to numerous lectures over Skype and other similar communication software apps.

However, the other good thing about online study is that you are no longer limited exclusively to Japanese academic institutions. The cost of education varies wildly from country to country, with some countries, like Scotland, even offering free university tuition for their residents.

With this in mind, if you aren’t particularly fussed about the experience of study at a Japanese institution, and you are more concerned with the relevance and usefulness of the degree itself rather than the school it comes from, then studying online could be, by far the cheapest of the options I have discussed today.

I would however offer this one note of caution. Whilst it is true that any form of higher education has merit, bear in mind that Japanese companies can tend to be very selective about the kind of credentials they choose to recognize. So, when choosing the institution you wish to study with, be sure to double check that the school is fully accredited and that these accreditations are recognized and respected in Japan.

Studying is something I came to relatively late in my life. I didn’t even enroll in university until I was 19. However, completing my degree opened a world of new options to me and ultimately it is the major reason why I am able to sit here today, as a resident of Japan and proffer my thoughts.

Whatever you decide to do next in your academic life, I wish you good luck!

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