EPRSLibrary By / August 3, 2013

Higher education in Asia

As stated in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 3 January 1976, Article 13c, higher…

© paylessimages / Fotolia

As stated in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 3 January 1976, Article 13c, higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. According to the World Bank, universities are a key part of all tertiary systems. This Keysource addresses higher education in Asia – with a focus on China and Japan. It lists reports and analyses on key aspects like curricula development and admission requirements for teachers and for students.


Quality assurance

Higher education in Asia
© paylessimages / Fotolia

Institutions of higher education in Japan include universities, junior colleges and colleges of technology, plus specialized training colleges offering postsecondary courses.

To assure the quality and protect students’ benefit, the approval by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology(MEXT) is required in order to establish an university (see the Establishment-approval system (EAS) as part of the Standards for Establishing University EU).

As stated in the document Quality Assurance Framework of Higher Education in Japan (Higher Education Bureau in 2009, 62 p.), universities are regularly monitored in accordance with the self-provided standards by agencies certified by the Minister of MEXT and the results of such process is to be published for the society (p. 7).

In China, according to the Regulations on Academic Degrees of the People’s Republic of China (adopted on 12 February 1980, amended on 28 August 2004), institutions of higher learning and research institutes conferring Bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s degrees need to be authorized by the State Council (Article 8).

More precisely, the establishment of other higher education organizations are subject to examination and approval by the relevant departments authorized by the State Council or by the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government (see Higher Education Law of the People’s Republic of China, effective as of January 1999, Article 29).


According to the National Report on the Development of Education in Japan, p. 30, published by the Ministry for Education in October 2008, p. 30, the content and methods of teaching are at the discretion of individual institutions of higher education.

The 2011 White Paper on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology states that, with regard to enhancing employment opportunities, the Japanese Education ministry supports the establishment of Leading Graduate Schools for fostering leaders who will work globally in industry, academia, or the government (see chapter 2: Trends and Development in Education, Science and Technology Policies Summary).

As mentioned in Article 2 of the Chinese Higher Education Law (January 1999), higher education shall be conducted in the service of the socialist modernization drive and in combination with productive labour. It stresses the role of the state in formulating plans for the development of higher education (Article 6) and optimizing the structure of higher education (Article 7). According to Article 34, however, higher education institutions shall act on their own in drawing up their teaching programs, compiling teaching materials and making arrangements for their teaching activities.


Academic degrees (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) in Japan are granted in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by the School Education Law. Universities offer courses of at least four years leading to a bachelor’s degree (Gakushi).  They may set up a graduate school offering advanced studies in a variety of fields leading to master’s (Shushi) and doctor’s (Hakushi) degrees. Graduate schools normally last five years, consisting of the first two-year courses leading to a master’s degree and the following three year courses leading to a doctor’s degree (see summary of the Principles Guide Japan’s Educational System published by the Ministry of Education MEXT).

The Chinese Regulations on Academic Degrees provide for the granting of the three existing academic degrees – bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree and the doctor’s degree – and stresses the roles of the academic degree evaluation committees and the State Council.

According to Article 58 of the Chinese Higher Education Law (January 1999), students may graduate – in addition to having completed the courses and having passed the examinations – if they are qualified in their ideology and moral.

Admission requirements for teachers

As mentioned in the Interim Report by the University Council of Japan, published on 19 January 2011, p. 6,  “experienced professional” full-time teachers are required to make up a minimum proportion of professional graduate schools’ full-time teachers.

A 2013 article on the University of Tokyo (The Daily Yomiuri, 4 April 2013) says many schools now require candidates to submit teaching plans or give demonstration lectures as part of the selection process, with view to the increasing number of university students exhibiting a lack of motivation for learning, including those at the University of Tokyo.

According to the Chinese Higher Education Law (January 1999), a qualification system is in place for the employment of university teachers (Article 46) who are expected to be Chinese citizens, who abide by the Constitution and laws, love education as a cause, have sound ideology and moral character. They may either have completed undergraduate or graduate programs or have acquired a speciality through study and must have passed the according national examinations. Appointment is as well based on the assessment of the ideology, political performance, professional ethics, professional skill and actual achievements (Article 51).

Admission requirements for students

Japanese universities require for admission the completion of upper secondary schooling or its equivalent, plus conduct general entrance examinations for undergraduates (for current statistics see Daily Yomiuri press article of 26 February 2013) .

Special admission quotas, like for female students, are rare at Japanese universities because such schemes are seen as undermining the fairness of the process, according to a Nikkei press article of October 2012 (Univ Of Tokyo To Admit Some Students On Interviews, Letters, Nikkei Report). The University of Tokyo will use interviews and recommendation letters to select students in 2016, a move which is expected to impact the admission practices of other educational institutions.

As underlined in the relevant chapter of Education at a Glance 2013 (OECD Indicators on the state of education, published on 25 June 2013, 16 p.), despite considerable benefits to individuals, high tuition fees in Japan can be a disincentive from investing in tertiary education, these fees being some of the highest among OECD countries (p. 7). What is more, the recent financial crisis is assumed to have an impact on students’ ability to repay these loans. (p. 8)

Article 2 of the Chinese Higher Education Law defines higher education as education conducted on the basis of completion of senior middle-school education. Article 19 adds obligatory examinations to this requirement: Graduates from senior middle schools and people with the same educational level, who have passed the entrance examinations, shall be enrolled. There exists as well a system of higher education examinations for self-taught people (Article 21).

As mentioned in an Global Times article of 5 January 2013, the current national entrance examinations for graduate students in China, the kaoyan, saw the highest turnout in eight years.

As Michael Gallagher et al. mention in their review of the tertiary education in Japan (in: OECD Reviews of Tertiary Education, 5 March 2009), annual applications via the national examination system had already risen in the years before, from 3 million in 1998 to 8.7 million in 2005, with a growing participation among students from rural backgrounds, women and minorities (p. 40).


According to an article written by Alexandra Ryan, Daniella Tilbury, Peter Corcoran, Osamu Abe and Ko Nomura in 2010 (Sustainability in higher education in the Asia-Pacific: developments, challenges, and prospects, in: International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, January, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 106-119, 14 p.), the Asia-Pacific region is on the top of the higher education for sustainable development with measures aligned with global trends (e.g. integrative thinking), encouraging new approaches to social inequalities through engagement with communities, NGOs and the private sector.


An OECD publication from 2012, Policy Lessons from and for Japan (in: Lessons from PISA for Japan, 2012), points out the role of high-school and university entrance exams as gateways to status in Japanese society. The broad believe that doing well in these exams depends much more on studying hard than on innate intelligence creates an expectation to succeed, it is assumed. This results in high levels of student performance as seen in PISA.

According to Futao Huang in an article written in 2012 (Higher education from massification to universal access: a perspective from Japan, in: Higher Education, February, Vol 63, Issue 2, pp. 257-270, 14 p.), the Japan shifted from massification to near universal access essentially by expanding private institutions. By the time the Government tried to preserved the excellence of the national universities, the private institutions were encouraged to admit more students. This resulted in a growth in the number of institutions and of female students.

In Fumi Kitagawa and Jun Oba’s article from 2010 (Managing differentiation of higher education system in Japan: connecting excellence and diversity, in: Higher Education, April, Vol. 59, Issue 4. pp. 507-524, 18 p.) the recent reform processes in Japanese higher education are presented, concerning the tensions within the system regarding “excellence” and “diversity”, based in surveys conducted with academic managers from Japanese universities.

In a Unesco-Unevoc discussion paper from 2009 (The Changing Status of Vocational Higher Education in Contemporary Japan and the Republic of Korea, 26 p.) Roger Goodman, Sachi Hatakenaka and Terri Kim consider the Japanese higher education system – Senmongakko – market-oriented with a strong focus on employability, a huge competitive drive, and an effective State influence.


Following an economic point of view, Jinfeng Pu wrote an article in 2013 (An Economic Analysis of the External Constraints on Reform of the Higher Education Admissions System in China, in: Chinese Education & Society, Jan/Feb, Vol. 46, Issue 1, pp. 51-63, 13 p.), in which he considers the Chinese unified entrance exam selection system is limited to a certain extent, but it is also the most effective way to control prices in the educational opportunities market.

The Global recession seems to have accelerated reforms in higher education. For Gerard Postiglione, in an article from 2011 (Global recession and higher education in eastern Asia: China, Mongolia and Vietnam, in: High Education, April, pp. 789-814, 26 p.), in China, higher education expansion and development were not affected by the crisis. However, it represented a slowdown in job creation for graduates.


In India, the number of students looking for admission has increased so much it exceeds the suitable accommodation of the system, according to Nandkumar Laxman Kadam in his article from 2012 (Growth and Development in Higher Education in India: a Historical and Statistical Review, in: Indian Streams Research Journal, November, Vol. 2, Issue 10, pp. 1-8, 8p.). The quality of higher education services must increase due to the expected continue growth on the number of students.

In a comparative study from 2012 (A Comparative Study to Analyse the Requirement of an Effective and Value-Based Higher Education System with Reference to India, in: International Journal of Research in Commerce, Economics and Management, September, Vol. 2, Issue 9, pp. 49-53, 5 p.), Ramesh Kumar points out that despite the achievements obtained after the independence in India, the higher education in the country still faces some big challenges, such as the need of proper accreditation bodies, the urgency of more public expenditures, the introduction of vocational education or the necessity of more scholarships and loan schemes.

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