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Master's, doctoral degrees drop in Japan as 6 other major countries see rise

A graduate student receives her degree in this March 25, 2016 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The number of master's and doctoral degrees obtained per capita among seven major countries including Japan has been dropping in Japan alone in recent years, a government study has found.

The finding comes as Japan faces the problem of a decline in both the quality and quantity of research papers.

The study, conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, tallied the number of master's degrees and doctorates obtained per 1 million people in Japan, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China and South Korea in the 2008 fiscal year and then again in fiscal 2014 or 2017.

China saw 350 people per million obtain master's degrees in fiscal 2014 -- 1.55 times more than in fiscal 2008. The corresponding figure for France was 1,976, or 1.27 times more. Master's degree graduates also increased in the four other countries. Japan alone saw a decrease, with 570 people per million obtaining master's degrees in fiscal 2014 -- 0.97 times the figure for fiscal 2008.

When it came to doctorates, the six countries besides Japan also saw increases over the period. For example, 279 people per million obtained doctorates in South Korea in fiscal 2017 -- 1.46 times the figure for fiscal 2008. Britain also saw an increase with 353 people per million obtaining doctorates in fiscal 2014 -- 1.23 times the figure for fiscal 2008.

In Japan, however, there were just 118 doctoral degrees awarded per million people in fiscal 2014 -- 0.9 times the figure for fiscal 2008, which was 131 per million.

Broken down by field of study, the results showed that Japan was the only country among the six, with the exception of China, to see the number of people obtaining doctorates or master's degrees in the natural sciences either plateau or decrease over the period. (A breakdown of the data for China was not available).

According to the institute, most Japanese master's and doctoral degrees are awarded in the natural sciences, but in other countries, there are many in the humanities and social sciences, particularly among those obtaining master's degrees, which has a bearing on the total number of people earning graduate degrees.

In Japan, the proportion of people obtaining doctoral degrees peaked in fiscal 2006, then started declining. As many researchers have no option but to go on unstable, fixed-term contracts after obtaining their degrees, it is believed that this may have turned people away.

(Japanese original by Yui Shuzo, Science & Environment News Department)

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