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Japanese universities rated highly for skills development

A survey of university students in Japan reveals high levels of satisfaction with skills development but shows more work needs to be done in key areas that can significantly affect students’ higher education experience.

A joint initiative between the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the Kawaijuku Group, the Japanese Universities Experience Survey (JUES) aims to better understand how students engage with their institutions and peers in order to help universities make changes that could improve student experiences and learning in the future.

More than 5500 first-year and final-year students at 16 Japanese universities were surveyed online in 2016 and the results are revealing.

Japanese students were largely satisfied in terms of skills development. Positive responses by students were relatively consistent across a range of questions relating to development of skills. Between 74 per cent and 93 per cent of respondents indicated that their course developed skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, written communication and confidence to work independently ‘quite a bit’ or ‘very much’. However, the survey found room for improvement in areas such as learning resources, teaching quality and student support.

More than half of the first year students surveyed reported they had received very little or no support to settle into study. In the area of learning resources, while most students were positive about library resources, they were less satisfied with online materials for their course, with 55 per cent of students rating them ‘poor’ or just ‘fair’.

Asked about the quality of teaching, around a third of students felt that assessment that was set by teachers did not challenge them to learn or challenged them ‘very little’, and around a quarter felt that teachers did not seem helpful or approachable. As strong student-lecturer relationships are linked with a decrease in drop-out rates, as previously reported in [rd], this is a potential cause for concern.

ACER Research Director, Tertiary Education and JUES Project Director Dr Daniel Edwards said these findings represented a valuable opportunity for improving the student experience, and increasing learning outcomes and retention rates as a result.

‘The intention of this survey is to equip universities with new data for exploring the student experience in order to identify areas for improvement and implement policies to assist students,’ Dr Edwards said.

‘The JUES also offers us an important benchmarking tool. As it links with the Australian Student Experience Survey, Japanese universities can compare their outcomes with Australia. In turn, Australian higher education can learn from Japanese university experiences and outcomes.’

The JUES asked students about five key areas that are measurable and linked by research with learning and development outcomes, and which universities can reasonably be assumed to have responsibility for and, therefore, the power to change.

JUES Summary Scales:

  • skills development
  • teaching quality
  • learning resources
  • student support
  • learner engagement.

The 2016 project expanded upon a pilot program conducted in Japan and Australia in 2014 and 2015. A further round of fieldwork is being completed in early 2018, with results available for participating universities to be released mid-year. ■

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