Over the course of the last 10 years, mobility of students and academics around the world has become commonplace. Student flows among countries in the region and beyond continue to rise. There are increasing efforts to match student mobility with support programs for students and academics from countries that will benefit from the educational and cultural experience of overseas study and professional development programs (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2006). One of the efforts is the change in the medium of instruction to English.
Following the Bologna Declaration that provides a framework for higher education across Europe, many universities in the non-English speaking countries in Europe started offering some of their engineering programs in English to remove language obstacles and increase student and staff mobility (Radu, 2006). In Asia during the past decade, international programs where the medium of instruction is English have gained popularity in many countries. These so-called "international" programs attract students domestically as well as from neighbouring countries. The chief driver of international education in Asia is student demand, combined with a capacity and willingness to pay. Students seek a full foreign degree, among other reasons, to enhance their employability and opportunities for professional mobility (Marginson & McBurnie, 2004).
In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced its Action Plan to Cultivate "Japanese with English Abilities" in 2003. The plan clarifies the goals and directions for the improvement of English education and the measures that should be taken by the government to realise these goals. One of the goals states: "On graduating from university, graduates must be able to use English in their work. In order to meet this goal each university should establish attainment targets from the viewpoint of fostering personnel who can use English in their work." And to achieve this goal, Japanese students should be encouraged to participate in special courses taught in English that are provided at universities for foreign students (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, 2003).
The number of English-medium programs in Japan has been on a rise since the 1990s, however, they are mostly short-term exchange. Using English has a longer history in private universities, for example, the pioneering program at the prestigious private Waseda University started in 1963 as a response to the needs of study abroad programs in the United States. In 1971, Kansai Foreign Language University, presently the private university accepting the largest number of short-term international students, started its program in English, with a similar motive. In private universities, attracting foreign students and establishing study abroad programs makes sense in many ways (eg. not only from an ideological standpoint, but also from a marketing perspective) (Tsuneyoshi, 2005).
As of 2005, 74 special graduate programs with English as a medium of instruction are offered by 43 national universities across Japan, out of which 33% are in engineering (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, 2005). At Hokkaido University, the first special English program started in 1997 at the Graduate School of Agriculture and the second one at the Graduate School of Engineering in 2000. A major reason to start the English programs is to obtain a fixed number of the Japanese government (Monbukagakusho or MEXT) scholarships annually to attract quality international students who otherwise would have chosen to study in countries where the medium of instruction is English.
In this study, the perception of English education at the Graduate School of Engineering, Hokkaido University, following an introduction of an English graduate program is examined. …