Japanese University Life

Five Differences Between Australian and Japanese Universities

Please note there are definitely more than just this five, but these are the ones that interested me the most!


1. Entrance exams. In Japan, each university has its own entrance exam and application procedure. This is for undergraduate, Master's and even PhD. In Australia, we don’t take entrance exams. Instead, we get a score from 0.00 to 99.95 called an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) which is based on exams and our rank within our high school. Through UAC (University Admissions Centre) we apply for many universities, and UAC sends our ATAR to these universities. If our score is good enough, we receive our top preference, and it goes down our preference list. For Master's and PhD, this is based on our results in our Bachelor’s degree, as well as sometimes an interview or research proposal that we present.


2. School clubs. School clubs in Japanese universities seems to be a big focus of a student’s life at university. The club that you belong to forms a part of your identity and social circle, and also a lot of your time. I was so surprised to find that people train sometimes five or more days a week for their school club. And it’s not just sports, but music and hobbies that are school clubs as well. In Australian universities, we don’t have anything like this at all. Of course there are societies and things you can join, but that is usually one afternoon a week where people who have similar interests join together. Like at my university, there was an anime club and a Japanese Conversation Club, but people could come and go freely and there was no commitment. University sport is also not a very big deal, and most people do not play it unless they are already very good.


3. Lab culture. In Japan, this idea that you belong to a lab for your research was very new to me. Even if you are not doing science or that kind of experiment based research, still people will belong to a small lab within their faculties. This also provides most of the socialising people do on campus, especially in their postgraduate studies. There are seminars within the labs, weekly sharing and critiquing of each other’s research, and just sitting in their labs all day getting work done. People from the labs often go to drinking parties together and spend even their free time with the same people. Some of my friends even sleep at their labs! There is nothing like this in Australia. We have a much bigger disconnect between our university life and our personal life. Even people living on campus spend a lot less time on the actual campus than people do in their labs in Japan. This is something that I can never get used to!


4. Participation in class. In Australia, we have our classes generally split into two types; lectures and tutorial or seminar. The lecture is of course the place where the course instructor shares and instructs information about the content of the course, often to a large group of people, using overhead slides. However even in this format, often the lecturer will ask the students questions, and picking people directly to answer rather than waiting for a show of hands. The tutorial or seminar is a follow up discussion class of a much smaller group of people, where you have to show your interpretation and knowledge from the lecture and the weekly readings, giving your opinion on questions the tutor puts forward. Often you are graded on your class participation, and if you do not engage with the class and the teacher you will receive lower grades. In Japan, there not a lot of communication between the teacher and the student. Often questions or discussion is discouraged, and students often do not give their opinion in the classroom. There is a real distance between the teacher and the students in this respect. Sometimes people are very surprised at how easily I share my opinion in Japan.


5. Coffee. There is coffee everywhere on university campuses in Australia. Coffee shops, coffee carts, cafes, coffee stations….everywhere. At least half of the class will sit there with their coffee cup. The whole of Australia takes its coffee seriously, but at Japanese universities, while I'm sure it's better at some, they are greatly lacking. Every university I have been to has had a very poor representation of coffee, with one or two places selling it. Hiroshima University only started takeaway coffee at its one café this semester! This is the hardest cultural difference I’ve had between Australian and Japanese universities.