Life in the Glasshouse

The whizzy, modern architecture at Kansai Gaidai’s Centre for International Education and its Seminar House accomodation has one rather startling feature. The ground floor of Seminar House 4 is divided into different rooms, but looks open plan, as the walls are made of glass. Likewise the ground floor of the CIE, where everyone walking down the corridor can see through the glass walls into the student lounge, and vice versa.

So, I was sitting in the student lounge, looking out through the glass walls and trying to fill in the assessment form for this semester. (Yep, this semester’s almost over; I’m surprised at how fast it’s gone.) This is actually the first time I’ve paid real attention to these things. Back in school we used to get self-assessment forms every year, which every pupil dutifully filled out with the standard boilerplate about how they’d ‘progressed’ and their ‘targets’ for next year – the kind of bureaucratic, box-ticking mentality that has pretty much ruined the British education system. Assessing the actual courses was new to me when I started at university. Presumably it’s on the grounds that as you’re paying for it, you should be allowed your opinion as a customer. But I didn’t really think about what the first-year courses at Leeds actually meant. If I had, maybe I’d have worried less about the year abroad before I went. Maybe not.

Anyway, it suddenly occured to me that it really didn’t matter what I put in – at least, not in terms of the university. I was here for a year. Kansai Gaidai would be here long after I’d gone, and would treat the next lot of gaijin exactly as it saw fit. This isn’t bitterness, this is just a comment on a well-organised, successful private university that doesn’t make its money from pandering to its students’ every wish. This may be the Japanese mentality or it may be the private-sector mentality, but despite the motivated teachers and well-equipped facilities, I get the feeling that the students aren’t the highest priority here.

Not that the private-sector mentality is automatically a bad thing. In fact, I kind of admire Kansai Gaidai for at least being single-minded and honest about it. Higher education in Britain is as dependant on income from both business and its own students, but still view themselves as independant from grubby commercial concerns. Leeds University Union is so filled with retail opportunities it looks like a shopping mall (a glossy brochure I was given for registration week portrayed it as just that), enormous corporate firms hold recruitment fairs on campus for graduates, and research investment depends on big business (see this shocking story from Lancaster University for an example of its influence), and yet universities always speak of themselves as if they exist in a vacuum where money has no value or import. Sad to say, but I’d prefer my educators to be mercenary rather than disingenuous.

Of course, I give Leeds too rough a ride. Compared to this place (the one other unviersity I have experience of learning at) the amount of support and care given to students at Leeds, both inside and outside academic departments, is astounding. So, does this post mean anything? Of course it does (if I was into meaningless posts, I’d devote myself exclusively to political blogging of the extreme right or left. I kid, I kid). Because I really made an effort over that assessment report, it doesn’t matter what the CIE thinks of it, because at least I looked at this place critically, and found out the good and bad. And isn’t teaching yourself to think more independantly and effectively what this year abroad is all about?

No, it’s about passing your damn degree!
Oh yeah, I forgot that. More on that later.

In the news: a Japanese government panel on imperial succesion has ruled that women be allowed to “ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.” Reports from the Japan Times and the Asahi Shimbun.
An Arab journalist alleges that “the US knows it will have to talk to the Iraqi resistance”. Apparently several other governments, including Britain, have entered into negociations with insurgent groups in Iraq, usually over hostage situations. It will be interesting to see if pragmatism or war-on-terror ideology wins out within the US government.
Licensing laws have changed over in Britain, allowing longer hours for pubs, bars and off-licenses. Gosh, is that a pang of homesickness I feel? It’s not that I can’t get drunk in Japan, it’s just that I miss having a quiet drink in a pub.


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