By Yu Yu Phan

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the University of Tokyo implemented a large-scale university-wide educational reform, with the aim of improving its quality of education and competitiveness with other top universities worldwide. One of the most controversial reforms to the junior division students was the change in the admission system to the senior division (i.e. proceeding to specific majors in our 3rd year). However, with the system for the class of 2019 being discontinued only after one year, it seems that we will be a year forgotten in history.

With the first term of 2016 almost complete, a number of trends have emerged for how 2nd year students have planned out their timetable. Some have tried to fulfill all the junior division graduation requirements in their first year and thus have had a front-heavy timetable. For the Natural Sciences students, this would leave them with only required classes in the 2S1 term, and nothing in the 2S2 term. For the Humanities and Social Sciences students, they do not have required classes in their second year, which would effectively mean that they are potentially able to have a 9-month break from January to September.

This is seen with much envy from students who still have unfulfilled requirements, but being self-motivated students of the University of Tokyo, many people without classes in 2S1 and 2S2 are spending their extended break effectively, with many still attending classes, albeit without enrolling in them.

In the new system applicable to the class of 2019, the grades of all classes carry equal weightage. In contrast, in the prior system, results of any classes enrolled beyond the junior division graduation requirement have only a 0.1 weightage. This has had a huge impact on not only the classes students enroll in, but also when they enroll in classes.

The change in enrollment patterns and behaviour in should not come as a surprise. In a competitive environment, where a hundredth of a point can determine whether or not you get admitted into the department you want, it has had the unintended effect of students attending classes without enrolling in them. It has also created the bigger problem of students enrolling in classes that are graded leniently, while putting off enrolling in classes they are really interested in till 2A semester, when the grades will not affect admission to senior division. In addition, in the previous system, students tended to take more classes than necessary so as to increase their average score, but in the new system, there is no motivation to take more classes than necessary to graduate.


Senior Division Academic Guidebooks. Photo by author.

All these contradict the purpose of the junior division education, which aims to provide a broad-based liberal arts education. The academic affairs division had acknowledged the problems of having all results carry equal weightage, and has once again change the senior division admission system for the class of 2020. The system for the class of 2020 as a whole aims for students to explore a wider range of subjects, instead of striving single-mindedly to get as high a score as possible. For example, in order to reduce students’ obsessions with every hundredth of a point, some colleges have come up with a GPA-like scale, and grades up till 2S semester will be taken into consideration. Also, more colleges will employ a holistic approach to admitting students at an earlier stage, through interviews and essays for the class of 2020.


It is unclear if unintended negative effects will similarly arise from the new senior division admission system for the class of 2020. The class of 2019 unfortunately got stuck in the transition between systems and are more risk averse in class selections. However, those without classes in S semester or S2 term have set their sights away from classes and many are looking for learning opportunities beyond the classroom, such as summer programs abroad or locally. This exploration beyond classroom walls sounds right in line with what junior division education is supposed to be about. Ironically, these opportunities were gifted by the very system which the academic affairs division thinks does not encourage exploring a wide variety of subjects.


Junior division, senior division: The first 2 years of the undergraduate years are known as the junior division while the 3rd and 4th years are known as the senior division.

Each academic year is divided into 4 terms, namely S1, S2, A1 and A2.

S1 and S2 combined is called S semester, A1 and A2 combined is called A semester.

The number before either S or A refers to the school year, so 2S1 refers to S1 term of second year.


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