Internship program in Japan only for doctoral students to be created this academic year

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The education ministry will extend support to students in doctoral courses to help them find jobs through a tie-up with companies and universities to create an internship program exclusively for doctoral students, starting this academic year.

Such an initiative is necessary because in Japan there are fewer opportunities for doctoral students than undergraduate students to find jobs at private firms. Even if they remain at universities as postdoctoral researchers in the hope of getting the limited number of regular jobs at universities, their situation tends to be unstable. This has led in recent years to doctoral courses becoming less popular among Japanese students.

With the new system, which is also expected to be directly linked to the hiring of such students by private companies, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry aims to increase the number of doctoral students while also raising the level of the country’s research prowess.

The ministry has established a council made up of 45 firms that mainly look for science students, such as Canon Inc., Toyota Motor Corp., and SoftBank Corp., and 45 state, public, and private universities, including the University of Tokyo and Waseda University.

The new program will start by December this year under such conditions: The internship 1) is paid; 2) lasts for longer than two months; and 3) participants have the possibility of being hired based on the results of their internship.

Through a recruitment service firm that will function as the council’s administration office, types of manpower sought by companies will be provided, with those students who would match them prompted to apply for the jobs.

For instance, a second-year doctoral student who specializes in materials science would take part in research on new product on a paid basis at a material maker for three months. If the student is recognized for the ability and willingness to work, the student could be hired as a regular employee upon the completion of the doctoral course. Most universities in Japan have master’s courses lasting two years and doctoral courses taking three years.

Such details as the quota for eligible students and areas of eligibility will be worked out in the days ahead. Under the present rules for students’ job-hunting activities, internship programs in which undergraduate or graduate students have taken part before companies’ recruiting of graduating students officially starts would not be associated with the firms’ students-screening activities. But such rules do not apply to doctoral students.

Due chiefly to concerns about their futures, there is a continuing trend in recent years among Japanese college students to avoid enrolling in doctoral courses. It is because Japanese companies hire mainly younger, undergraduate students, while the number of full-time positions is limited for those who remain at universities as postdoctoral researchers.

The percentage of students who go on to doctoral courses has nearly halved from 16.7% in the 2000 academic year to 9.4% in the 2020 school year.

According to the education ministry, the number of people acquiring a doctorate totals around 15,000 a year in Japan, while the number reaches about 184,000 in the United States, 59,000 in China and 25,000 in the United Kingdom. Some pundits have pointed out that the low popularity of doctoral courses may lead to a decline in Japan’s international competitiveness.