Serious efforts to introduce Japan’s college of technology system in Asia will start this year with the aim of assisting students in becoming leading engineers in emerging economies. Graduates from the colleges of technology — having completed a five-year practical professional program after junior high school — have gained praise from corporations and universities in Japan. The diversity of career paths taken by the graduates from the 57 colleges of technology have also attracted attention as proof of their capabilities.
Thai college to open in May
About 10 representatives from Thailand, including government officials and university faculty, visited the National Institute of Technology, Kisarazu College, in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, last October.
At a mechanical engineering laboratory, the representatives observed practical training in which students learned how to develop a drone for use in disaster control. At the department of information and computer engineering, they also looked at a robot designed to prevent damage from crows.
“Japan’s colleges of technology offer a high level of education,” said Sukit Limpijumnong, the leader of the representatives and president of Thailand’s Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology. “What we find attractive is that they provide practical educational programs as well as university-level academic education,” he added.
The governments of Japan and Thailand signed a pact last summer to introduce an educational system based on the technical colleges in Thailand. Japanese companies in Thailand in serious need of engineers hope to see the same technical college system there as the one that supported Japan’s postwar economic growth. Thailand also intends to develop its own engineers in the country.
Courses incorporating the system’s know-how were introduced last spring at two Thai vocational schools. A new educational institution following the technical college system will be established this May, annexed to an engineering university in a Bangkok suburb. In the first academic year, around 24 students will study in the institution’s mechatronics department, which will teach a combinetion of mechanical engineering and, electrical and electronic engineering. The institution is planned to be expanded further from the second year.
The National Institute of Technology will review the Thai curriculum and educational materials. The organization has been planning to send a number of teaching staff from technical colleges to assist the new institution right after its May start. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has given financial support to the project as an international cooperation effort.
Efforts to institute the technical college system in Asia began in Mongolia. Former exchange students at technical colleges initiated the move and three schools were opened. The first graduates will be seen this year.
Last spring, the National Institute of Technology opened an office in Vietnam in order to provide the system’s know-how to the country. Malaysia and Indonesia have also shown interest in establishing technical college-style education.
Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), visited last year the National Institute of Technology, Tokyo College, and praised the institution for “skillfully combining lectures and practical training.” OECD teams had in the past compiled a report that highly evaluated the technical college system while suggesting reforms for universities in Japan.
As a system to be developed in Asia, the National Institute of Technology has proceeded with registering the trademark of “KOSEN” (shorthand for colleges of technology in Japanese), assuming the expression might more easily be recognized overseas. Isao Taniguchi, president of the institute, said, “We want to further introduce the KOSEN brand, which represents an educational institution unique to Japan.” According to Taniguchi, the institute is also considering a system to certify technical college-type education abroad to guarantee its quality.
Diverse career paths
The colleges of technology were established mainly in industrial cities throughout Japan to train mid-level engineers required for the country’s rapid economic growth. In recent years, the graduates’ career paths have diversified as the KOSEN educational system’s capacity to impart knowledge and professional skills has been acknowledged by universities as well as corporations. Almost 100 percent of graduates find employment, and the ratio of job openings to job seekers reportedly exceeds 20-to-1. Many graduates have been employed as researchers and engineers for major firms.
Approximately 40 percent of the graduates advance to higher educational institutions. In fiscal 2016, about 2,100 graduates were enrolled as junior students at a wide range of national universities including Nagaoka University of Technology and Toyohashi University of Technology — which admit a large number of technical college graduates — in addition to the University of Tokyo, the University of Tsukuba, Chiba University and Osaka University.
Many graduates decide to take two-year advanced courses attached to the technical college to earn a bachelor’s degree, and then advance to a national graduate school.
In recent years, more graduates have launched start-ups related to information technology by taking advantage of their technical skills.
Fuller, Inc., an IT company in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, which has expanded its overseas business dealings in mobile app analysis and mobile business development services, employs a staff of approximately 60, about 40 percent of whom are technical college graduates. The company’s founder and president, Shuta Shibuya, graduated from the National Institute of Technology, Nagaoka College, and enrolled at the University of Tsukuba. He established the firm with people including friends he met at the technical college. “Many students at technical colleges have a clear idea of what to do,” Shibuya explained. The 30-year-old entrepreneur added: “Making a head start to receive professional education is the key to enhancing students’ talents in science and technology.”
■ Colleges of technology (or KOSEN)
Established in 1962 as higher education institutions with a five-year curriculum. There are currently 51 national colleges as well as three public colleges and three private colleges. Students enroll from age 15 and receive professional education focusing on experiments and practical training in engineering-related subjects including mechanical, electric and electronic, information and architectural engineering. Many of the college’s faculty have doctoral degrees. Students can earn an associate’s degree.Speech