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My Career and Research—University Evaluation and Language Policy

2019.01.17




Itaru Oda
Chief of the General Affairs & Planning Division, the Japan University Accreditation Association
Project Researcher at the University Evaluation Research Institute

There was no shortage of news on sporting events in 2018. In particular, the Major League debut of Shohei Ohtani had a huge impact. Ohtani is unique in that he is a “two-way player” who can excel as both a pitcher and a batter. However, there are some arguments on the pros and cons regarding his decision to pursue a career as a two-way player. First of all, in Japanese culture, focusing on a single matter is considered to be a great virtue. Meanwhile, pursuing another success before mastering one thing will always lead to criticism such as “If you run after two hares you will catch neither.” Nevertheless, I feel that the number of people who protest against this conventional way of thinking is gradually growing in recent times.

My career—University evaluation

After completing the Master’s Program at graduate school, I entered employment at the Office of the Secretariat in the Japan University Accreditation Association (JUAA).

Established in 1947, JUAA is Japan’s only university organization which encompasses all of national, public, and private universities. Today, JUAA conducts a variety of activities; for example, survey research on higher education and cooperation with related overseas institutions. However, the main activity of JUAA is its evaluation business.

Japan has the Certified Evaluation and Accreditation System for assessing institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, this system is not very well known. In this system, universities and colleges are required to undergo evaluation by institutions accredited by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) once every seven years. Professional graduate schools must undergo the evaluation once every five years. Furthermore, although not required by the system, there is a spreading movement for evaluation of programs in specialized fields such as medicine and pharmacology.

Currently, JUAA conducts evaluation of certification for universities, colleges and professional graduate schools in seven fields. The JUAA also conducts evaluation of programs in the field of veterinary medicine. In all cases, committee members consist of experts such as university faculty and staff. Evaluation is performed based on documentation submitted from the target university and on the results of on-site investigation. Within this process, the Office of the Secretariat fulfills a behind-the-scenes role, performing work such as coordination and preparation to ensure that the evaluation process goes smoothly. However, the Office is unable to thoroughly perform its behind-the-scenes role if the office staff members do not possess sufficient knowledge on the higher education systems and evaluation systems. Therefore, it is essential to gather related information, perform survey research, and engage in other related tasks.

Incidentally, why is it necessary to evaluate universities? There are several answers to this question; I would like to give one such example below.

“Your degree does not qualify you to apply for the position being offered.”—Imagine being told such a thing. After working hard to complete your university education, how would you feel if your degree was invalidated by the corporation where you seek employment or the graduate school where you seek further education? Although almost unthinkable in Japan, you might encounter such a situation when seeking an overseas position.

Recently, continued globalization has made it more common for human resources to move across national borders. However, the systems of higher education in each country and region are still quite varied. Amidst such conditions, based on significant recognition for international trends, it is necessary to evaluate institutions of higher education in each country and region, and to ensure the quality of that education. Doing so will increase the validity of the academic degrees being conferred.

This concludes my rather lengthy introduction of background conditions. For the first seven years that I worked at JUAA, I was involved in certification evaluation of professional graduate schools. Afterwards, I performed work related to public relations and compliance.

When performing certification evaluation of professional graduate schools, I was in charge of fields such as law schools, professional graduate schools related to business (business administration, management of technology, accounting, etc.), and professional graduate schools related to public policy. It was extremely exciting to work with instructors who are active on the frontlines of each field. Moreover, after transferring to the General Affairs & Planning Section where I currently work, I was involved in major projects such as events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of JUAA and the establishment of a research institute. These were all invaluable experiences.

My research—Language policy

Presentation at the Taiwan Assessment and Evaluation
Association (TWAEA)
Normally, I am engaged in the work discussed above. However, when not working, I continue the research which I have performed since my time in the Master’s Program. After graduating from the Department of Law in the Chuo University Faculty of Law, I entered the Master’s Program in the Chinese Language and Culture Course in the Chuo University Graduate School of Letters. My main field of research is language policy in China.

An extremely large number of languages are used in China. The Chinese language spoken by Chinese people is by no means monolithic; instead, it is actually full of rich variety. Standard Chinese is known as Standard Mandarin (Putonghua). It is no exaggeration to say that Standard Mandarin and Chinese dialects used in the region south of the Yangtze River, such as Shanghainese and Cantonese differ to the same extent that European languages differ from each other. In recent years, my research has focused on the following questions—How are Chinese dialects in southeast China used in broadcasting areas? What kind of policies exist regarding the use of these dialects?

These days, the number of working professionals who enter graduate schools has increased. When attending events such as academic conferences, I sometimes meet people who continue their research while working at a corporation or government agency. I am often asked if it is difficult to write academic papers and give presentations at academic conferences while working.

Of course, working at a company puts certain restrictions on my time. However, nowadays university instructors also spend a great deal of time on work other than research. Furthermore, students who enter graduate school immediately after graduating from undergraduate school are faced with great difficulty in terms of both time and money—unless they happen to come from a very affluent household. Since everyone engages in research by using their own limited time and money, there is no inherent difficulty in conducting research as a working professional.

Personally, the research that I perform is not directly related to my work. Still, that does not mean that my work and research are completely mutually exclusive.

For example, in recent years, my work has given me many opportunities to interact with evaluation institutions in Taiwan. I sometimes give presentations in Chinese and provide interpretation services. It would have been difficult to skillfully perform this work if I had not continued my research. Furthermore, for several years, I have been teaching a course entitled “Multilingualism Issues in a Globalizing World PartⅡ” in the Faculty of Law. This course covers language policy in Chinese-speaking countries. Teaching the course has allowed me to apply the results of my research to education. Moreover, working as a university instructor has given me many insights and ideas for performing my normal work.

Additionally, several years ago, I was in charge of work to establish a certification evaluation project for professional graduate schools in the field of global communication. One of the instructors on the committee involved in review of the project recommended that I join a certain academic society. This year, I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the society. At the moment that my work and research converge, I always feel a sense of wonder and intense delight.

So, how did you like my article? If you felt surprise at the varied roles in my career, then I fulfilled my intent in writing this article. We only live once. Although it is wonderful to focus one’s self entirely on a single pursuit, I intend to continue multitasking and living as unique a life as possible.
Itaru Oda
Chief of the General Affairs & Planning Division, the Japan University Accreditation Association
Project Researcher at the University Evaluation Research Institute


Itaru Oda was born in Tokyo. In 2002, he graduated from the Chuo University Senior High School. In 2006, he graduated from the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. In 2008, he completed the Master’s Program in the Chinese Language and Culture Course in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University. Also in 2008, he entered employment at the Office of the Secretariat, the Japan University Accreditation Association. In 2018, he received the Presentation Award (General Research Presentation Category) for the 20th Memorial Research Conference held by the Japan Association for Language Policy. (JALP)