Japan women’s universities go urban for survival

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Women’s universities relocating to urban centre in order to increase applicant numbers in the universities.

Women’s universities in suburban areas of metropolitan Tokyo are increasingly relocating to the urban centre in a bid to increase the number of applicants to the universities.

In recent years, such universities have opened new departments or relocated existing ones to places near stations in central Tokyo for commuting convenience. Challenges continue to mount for women’s universities, however, such as preferences for coeducation and the fact that the number of 18-year-olds will begin to decrease from 2018.

Geographical advantages

“Students today place emphasis on their job-hunting activities, so it’s important for a university to have a campus in central Tokyo, close to the headquarters of many companies,” said Prof. Toshihito Kayano at Tsuda College in Kodaira, western Tokyo.

Kayano heads the college’s office in charge of preparation for the opening of a new department near Sendagaya Station in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, for the 2017 academic year. The new department, tentatively named the Faculty of Comprehensive Policy Development, is expected to have 110 students for each year.

Tsuda College was founded in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, but moved to its current location in 1931. Since then, it has prided itself on providing a practical English education in a quiet suburban setting.

Students engaged in job-hunting activities, however, have to spend around an hour on the train each way to attend company information sessions. They also run into difficulties when they try to work part-time to help pay for living expenses, finding there are not many well-paying jobs in the suburban area.

Those disadvantages due to the college’s location have reportedly been burdens on the students, so the college plans to open a career center on the new campus in Sendagaya to provide support for job hunting and college life.

Outstanding results

Co-ed universities such as Chuo University, Toyo University, Takushoku University and the Tokyo University of Science have returned to the center of Tokyo from the suburbs, but the trend is especially pronounced among women’s universities.

Jissen Women’s University moved two of its three departments from Hino, Tokyo, to Shibuya Ward in the 2014 academic year. Otsuma Women’s University plans to relocate two departments from Tama, western Tokyo, to its campus in Chiyoda Ward in the 2016-18 academic years.

Japan Women’s University, which was founded with the help of Asako Hirooka, the businesswoman who was the model for the main character in NHK’s popular morning serial drama plans to move its Faculty of Integrated Arts and Social Sciences from Tama Ward, Kawasaki, to the university’s original location in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. The relocation, planned for the 2021 academic year when the university will celebrate its 120th anniversary, will bring all its departments to the same place.

University officials said reasons for moving back to central Tokyo include bringing all the departments together and improving the learning environment. But they also have a strong desire to bring in more applicants by making the university more convenient for commutes and job-hunting activities.

Some universities are already seeing results. According to major prep school Kawaijuku, the number of applicants for the general entrance exam in method A in the first term for the Otsuma Women’s University Faculty of Comparative Culture increased from 131 last year to 286 this year. The deviation value necessary to pass the exam, the so-called hensachi value, went up by five percentage points.

“The impact of having a central Tokyo campus can already be seen,” said Kuniaki Hanamura, chair of the Otsuma Gakuin Educational Institution that operates the university. “From here on out, we would like to compete with popular universities and women’s universities in the middle of Tokyo.”

Shrinking population

The “2018 problem” is a contributing factor to the return of these universities to central Tokyo.

According to entities including the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the 18-year-old population rose to about 2.49 million in 1966 with the first baby boom and to about 2.05 million in 1992 during the second baby boom.

But that has been a declining trend. The figure hovered around 1.2 million from around 2009, but it is expected to decline again from 2018 to fall below 1 million in 2031. This means attracting as many applicants as possible from the shrinking 18-year-old population is the biggest challenge for women’s universities.

“Co-ed universities have solidified their popularity among applicants, making it a difficult time for women’s universities,” said Yasuharu Ishizawa, president of Gakushuin Women’s College in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

“In addition to having campuses in central Tokyo,” he added, “we need to further improve the educational environment and provide careful support to our students and pay attention to the needs of students in order to survive.”