JET Return on Investment (ROI) is a new category on JetWit intended to highlight the various economic and diplomatic benefits to Japan resulting from its investment in the JET Program. This first post by Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) lays out the context and background regarding the serious challenges now faced by the JET Program and JET Alumni Association in connection with current economic problems and political shifts in Japan. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas or submissions for additional JET ROI posts.
“JET Program on the Chopping Block”
Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) has served as the Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA) (www.jcie.or.jp) in New York since 2002, the US affiliate of one of the leading nongovernmental institutions in the field of international affairs in Japan. JCIE brings together key figures from around the world for programs of exchange, research, and dialogue designed to build international cooperation on pressing regional and global challenges. Before joining JCIE in 2001, Jim conducted research with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and taught English in rural Japanese middle schools as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. He received a BA from the University of Notre Dame, conducted graduate research at Ehime University in Japan, and has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Mr. Gannon is also a fellow with the US-Japan Network for the Future, operated by the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Foundation, and his recent publications include “East Asia at a Crossroads” in East Asia at a Crossroads and “Promoting the Study of the United States in Japan” in Philanthropy and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar US-Japan Relations.
As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new DPJ government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful government spending. This has featured jigyo shiwake–budget review panels that were tasked with reviewing government programs and recommending whether they should be continued or cut. (See Stacy Smith’s (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) May 21 WITLife post that explains jigyou shiwake and touches on the threat to the JET Program.)
In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized the JET scheme, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether.When the jigyo shiwake panels were launched in November 2009, the intent was to weed out bloated spending and a wide range of government programs were put under review, from government-affiliated think tanks to host nation support for US military bases. Bureaucrats involved with each program were directed to submit a brief report on program activities and testify before panels consisting of a handful of Diet members and roughly a dozen private citizens from different walks of life. The defenders of each program were given five minutes to explain why the program is worthwhile, the finance ministry then laid out the rationale for cutting it, and then the panel held a 40 minute debate before issuing a recommendation whether the program should live or die.
This extraordinary spectacle made for great theater, becoming wildly popular with voters disenchanted with a lack of government transparency and critical of recurring bureaucratic scandals. In November 2009, the first round of jigyo shiwake panels dominated the newspapers’ front pages and the hearings were streamed live by various online news sites. The process even gave rise to a new set of stars, most notably Renho, a 42 year-old Taiwanese-Japanese announcer turned Diet member who relentlessly attacked the bureaucrats who appeared before the panels.
Despite this initial success, a backlash eventually began to brew against the jigyo shiwake panels, with detractors labeling them as mindless populism, arguing that panel members without any special expertise were unqualified to evaluate the programs and ridiculing the attempt to pass judgment on complex, long-standing projects with such a cursory review. In one noteworthy development, a group of Japanese Nobel laureates publicly rebuked the Hatoyama Goverment for jigyo shiwake recommendations to gut government funding for basic scientific research. Renho herself met with ridicule for arguing in one budget hearing, “What’s wrong with being the world’s number two?”
On May 21, a diverse set of programs including the JET Program were lumped together in one hourlong session and, during the course of the proceedings, the JET Program was criticized as being ineffective in raising the level of Japan’s English education. One of the more publicized comments called for the elimination of the Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) portion of JET. The general sense was that the JET Program was being evaluated as an educational program with the exchange component being given short shrift, since its impact is difficult to quantify and assess. (Click here for the ruling on the JET Program in Japanese in PDF format.)
A few Japanese intellectual and foreign policy leaders have begun to push back against the attacks on the JET Program, noting how important it is in terms of public diplomacy and in Japan’s engagement with a range of countries. In its June meeting in Washington, D.C., the US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), a joint US-Japan “wisemen’s commission” scathingly criticized the shortsightedness of any move to cut the JET Program, issuing a statement that
“CULCON strongly endorses the JET Program, especially against the background of negative assessment expressed by some panelists of the screening process.”
For its part, the US State Department also seems to be taking the position that the JET Program makes valuable contributions to the long-term underpinnings of US-Japan relations and cutting it will be harmful. Meanwhile, a handful of articles have also started to appear in the Japanese press defending the JET Program, although there have been only limited contributions to the debate so far by current and former JET participants.
The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat to its survival that the program has faced in its 23-year history. The pattern that has emerged with the previous round of jigyo shiwake has been that programs receiving this type of verdict will be scaled back significantly, absent any public outcry or political maneuvering by important figures.
It appears that the next few months will be decisive in whether and how the JET Program continues.
Additional reading on this topic:
- “The JET Program is a Successful Example of US-Japan Exchange” – Sankei Shimbun, June 26, 2010 – http://sankei.jp.msn.com/world/america/100626/amr1006260751000-n1.htm (in Japanese)
- “Second round of state spending reviews begins” – Japan Times, April 24, 2010 – http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100424a3.html
- “Japanese scientists rally against government cuts: Packed meeting hears a chorus of lament from Nobelists” – Nature News, November 26, 2009 – http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091126/full/news.2009.1108.html
- Ruling on JET (PDF) (In Japanese) – http://www.cao.go.jp/sasshin/data/shiwake/result/B-36.pdf (Feel free to provide English translation of relevant parts in the comments section of this JetWit post.)
Have a good idea for a JET ROI post? Please contact Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, 1992-94) at email@example.com.