By Akiko Nishio, Mukogawa Women’s University, Japan
Last summer, I made the long trip from Japan to Belfast to attend my first FACE conference. Although this was the first time I attended a FACE conference, I really enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere and soon felt accepted as a member of the organisation.
The main session I participated in during the conference was the ‘Global Approaches to Widening Access from Across the UK’. With Professor Storan, FACE chair, as the coordinator, five delegates from the UK (from England and Northern Ireland), America, Australia, Sweden, and I from Japan discussed current issues pertaining to widening participation in each country. There were also several stimulating comments and questions from the floor. Being one of the speakers, I soon realised how inflexible Japanese society was in terms of its education system and labour market, although I had expected this to some extent.
In Japan, as in many countries, there are huge numbers of potential students who wish to access tertiary education regardless of gender, age, occupation, marital status etc., with the aim of improving their employment chances in the rapidly changing knowledge-based economy. However, access to higher education in Japan is extremely limited to young entrants between the ages of 18-20. Most major companies hire, on a full-time basis, those who are only 22 and have just graduated from university. Outsiders to this framework have little chance of being employed full-time. This means there is little prospect of continuing higher education for mature students and investing in huge tuition fees. The more the Japanese realise the inflexibility of their society, the more they stick to what they know. As a result, the situation remains the same.
This is why FACE is important to me: they provide me with many opportunities to learn about the situation of non-traditional students in many countries and encourage me to work for the future students of Japan. Japan is far behind other advanced countries in this respect, but I will persevere towards my goal of higher education for all.