What university degrees are Japanese students choosing?


We look at the shifting sands in the types of degrees Japanese high school graduates are choosing at universities and junior colleges. Traditionally, the science and social sciences fields have dominated but we are witnessing a slowdown as they’re replaced by the education and healthcare fields. When broken down by gender, women still prefer to study in arts and humanities while men strongly prefer STEM degrees.

All data sourced from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology (MEXT).

While not surprising in the context of a declining population and anaemic birthrate, in the last two decades, university enrolments have tracked sideways for a decade. 78% of students go to private universities and colleges in Japan.

At present, broken down by gender, women continue to select degrees in the humanities fields – healthcare, arts and education. By choice. Men dominate STEM fields by choice.

In absolute numbers, social science degrees still swamp others. From a peak of almost 986,000 in 2000, the most recent MEXT data shows only 833,000.

In second place, engineering degrees have fallen from a peak of 467,000 in 2000 to 385,000 in 2017.

However the tectonic plates for other degrees are worth noting. Healthcare degrees have grown from under 80,000 at the turn of the 21st Century to over 250,000 in 2017. Education and teaching degrees have surged from 138,000 to 191,000 over the same period.

One fascinating change has emerged in mercantile marine degrees. Did students pick the collapse in the shipping industry ahead of the GFC? Does the rebound reflect a change in the approach to the consolidated shipping market globally, not least the Japanese marine transportation sector? How disappointed must the 4th place student have been not to be able to boast they were Top 3 in the country?

The overall academic shift seems to be slowly reflecting the greying economy.

Going forward, will we see Japanese corporates move away from the habit of hiring graduates out of “brand name” universities for bragging rights or will they look at the emergence of innovative schools looking to indulge students in a more globally collaborative manner beyond mere student exchanges?

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