Higher Education

, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 507–524 | Cite as

Managing differentiation of higher education system in Japan: connecting excellence and diversity

  • Fumi Kitagawa
  • Jun Oba


This article presents recent reform processes in Japanese higher education, concerning the tensions emerging within the system regarding ‘excellence’ and ‘diversity’. The article particularly focuses on how Japanese universities have reacted to the recent ‘competition’ and ‘differentiation’ policy promoted by the government, drawing on recent survey results conducted with academic managers at Japanese universities. It is interesting to examine the case of Japan, a historically diversified and differentiated national system, which has been changing rapidly with recent national ‘top-down’ policy reforms, followed by more recent and new bottom-up institutional initiatives. The study shows that universities are trying to achieve excellence, fulfilling different functions at the same time, aspiring to be excellent in teaching, research and social contribution without having institutional capacity to meet these expectations. Appropriate internal governance and external mediation mechanisms need to be created at the institutional level to manage diversification of the higher education system as a whole.


University reforms Japan Excellence Differentiation Diversity 



The authors would like to thank the two anonymous referees for very insightful comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 21st CHER Annual Conference “Excellence and Diversity in Higher Education. Meanings, Goals, and Instruments” held at Università degli Studi di Pavia, 11–13 September 2008. The authors appreciate comments and suggestions received during the conference, particularly, those from Ben Jongbloed, Rajani Naidoo and Rosemary Deem. The authors remain responsible for any mistakes still present in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE)Lund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Graduate School of EducationUniversity of BristolClifton, BristolUK
  3. 3.Research Institute for Higher EducationHiroshima UniversityHigashi-HiroshimaJapan

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