There’s one thing I always give advice to applicants of Japanese universities: don’t pick your university based on university ranking alone. Yes, the university ranking can be a reliable source of the quality of education that each university provides. However, in Japan, it is not always the case, especially for English-based degree programs. Many factors are essential for prospective students of Japanese universities, which aren’t reflected on the university ranking provided by organizations such as the QS or THE. University rankings can be more relevant when taking a master’s or doctoral program; but for undergraduate programs, it is more important to consider the factors that I will mention later in this article. Before we proceed with this discussion, we must understand how major university rankings grade each university.

Metrics of THE and QS University Rankings

For THE University Rankings, Times Higher Education uses five primary metrics for its evaluation of the university’s performance: namely, Teaching (Learning Environment), Research, Citations, International Outlook, and Industry Income. First, Teaching measures the teaching environment of the university, which can be a good indicator of prestige, facilities, and resources of the university. Second, research metric is measured through a reputation survey that assesses the perception of its academic peers regarding the research produced by the university; research income, and research productivity. Third, citations measure the influence of research provided by the university. This metric count the number of times another scholar cites the research of universities. Fourth, industry income assesses the value of research produced by the university in the industry to check the impact of this research in a commercial application. Lastly, international outlook evaluates the effort put by universities in gathering outstanding students and researchers across the world. The distribution of weight per metric is 30% for teaching, 30% for research, 30% citations, 7.5% for international outlook, and 2.5 % for industry income. 

On the other hand, the QS University Rankings also uses similar metrics, but the distribution of weight across the parameter is different. For QS University Ranking, the distribution is 40% for academic reputation, 10% for employer reputation, 20& faculty/student ratio, 20% for citations per faculty, and 5% each for international faculty ratio and international student ratio.

Irrelevance of University Rankings for Studying in Japan

 The metrics used in university rankings seem relevant, but why shouldn’t you decide based on rankings alone? It’s because the medium of instruction in Japan is not usually English; it is Japanese. Japan is, unfortunately, a country notorious for its poor English speaking skills, and universities in Japan are no exception. It takes time for the university to gather professors who can speak native-level English, and most of the English-based programs in Japan are relatively new or just established within this decade. The language proficiency of professors is especially crucial for English-based undergraduate programs. For prospective undergraduate students, it is vital that teachers can communicate well in English since knowledge transfer cannot happen if there’s a language barrier between teachers and students. This why you should consider the things that would maximize this knowledge transfer.

    Aside from that, the more relevant factors (e.g., international faculty ratio or international outlook) in university rankings bear a lower weight in the rank of the university. Thus, the university can have a higher rank even if the university has only a few international faculty members. 

Group of cheerful happy students holding international flags and looking at camera leaning on white wall at campus. International education concept

Relevant Factors for Studying in Japan

1. Establishment Year of the Program

This factor indicates the university’s mastery of delivering classes in English. The longer the years passed since the establishment of a degree program, the higher the English proficiency of its faculty members.  In Japan, Sophia University is known as the pioneer of English programs. The Faculty of Liberal Arts has several Japanese professors who have taken a doctoral program abroad and international faculty members under its wings. 

2. Number of International Faculty Members and Native English-Speaking Professors

To make sure that all the professors who will teach in your class are native English speaker, you can check the number of international faculty members or professors who have studied abroad at the university. 

3. Number of International Students in the Campus

This can be a good indicator to know whether the university is aggressively recruiting international students. If the number of international students on the campus is higher, the tendency is the university will put more effort to hire professors who can conduct classes in English to cater to these international students.

Importance of University Rankings

I’ll first explain in what scenarios can you decide based on ranking alone. In this article, I have mentioned the two following scenarios wherein your decision can be solely dependent on university rankings: (1) when taking post-graduate programs or research-intensive programs and (2) when going to college or university in a country where the native language is English.

When taking post-graduate or research-intensive programs, you should bear more university rankings in mind, since citations or the impact of research papers produced are highly considered in the ranking of universities. If the rank of the university is high, the tendency is the impact of their research is also broader and more profound. You should also consider the university subject rankings so you can also check the university’s performance in your prospective field of knowledge. Please bear in mind that this scenario is also the same for Japanese universities.

Furthermore, when going to a college in a country where the native language is English, you don’t need to consider the language proficiency level of the university’s faculty members. You can make a decision based on the rankings alone if we’re strictly talking about the efficiency of professors with regards to knowledge transfer.

So by the time you decide which university to enter, please make sure to bear these factors in mind. Going to college is a four-year commitment that should undergo a thorough decision-making process. Don’t just pick a university because of its prestige or branding! College can leave a long-lasting impact on your life, and you should not take this decision lightly.

Sources:

QS Staff Writer. (2019, June 19). QS World University Rankings: Methodology. Retrieved from QS Top Universities: https://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings/methodology

Times Higher Education. (2018, September 7). World University Rankings 2019: methodology. Retrieved from THE World University Rankings: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/world-university-rankings-2019-methodology