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Types of Higher Education Institutions

Definition of Higher Education Institution (HEI)

There is no legal definition on the scope of HEIs in Japan(1). On the other hand, the scope of “higher education institutions (HEIs)” subject to the “Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education” (known as “the Tokyo Convention”) is defined by the “Guideline for the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications – Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education –”[Japanese only]. According to this Guideline, HEIs include “universities, graduate schools, junior colleges, Colleges of Technology, and Professional Training Colleges (except for Prefectural Colleges of Agriculture) as well as National College of Nursing, Japan, Polytechnic University, and National Fisheries University amongst educational institutions operated by government ministries and agencies”. This website describes HEIs following this definition as a standard.

Japan’s higher education system includes universities, Colleges of Technology (KOSEN), and Professional Training Colleges (Specialized Training Colleges that offer Post-Secondary Courses). Under the category of university, there are universities (undergraduate programs), junior colleges, and graduate schools. Within them, universities and junior colleges that aim to educate professionals through a high-quality vocational education are Professional and Vocational Universities (PVU) and Professional and Vocational Junior Colleges (PVJC), and graduate schools that specialize in fostering highly-specialized professionals with flexible and practical education are Professional Graduate Schools. HEIs are categorized as national, public, or private based on the establishing body.

(1) Article 1 of the UNESCO “Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education”, which Japan has acceded on December 6, 2016, defines “higher education” as “post-secondary education, training or research that is recognised by the relevant authorities of a Party as belonging to its higher education system,” and “higher education institution” as “an establishment providing higher education recognised by the relevant authorities of a Party.”

University, College of Technology (KOSEN)

University (Undergraduate Program), Professional and Vocational University

University (Undergraduate Program)

Qualification awarded
Bachelor's degree
Program length
4 years
6 years for Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences (Clinical), and Veterinary Medical Science
Requirements for graduation
Enrollment for 4 years or more and 124 or more credits earned.
For Medicine and Dentistry, enrollment for 6 years or more and 188 or more credits earned.
For Pharmaceutical Sciences (Clinical), enrollment for 6 years or more and 186 or more credits earned.
For Veterinary Medical Science, enrollment for 6 years or more and 182 or more credits earned.
Early graduation
Students who have enrolled for 3 years or more at a university (undergraduate program) and have earned the required credits with excellent grades may graduate early. However, this does not apply to students in programs of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences (Clinical), and Veterinary Medical Science.

Professional and Vocational University (PVU)

PVU is a type of university that pursues teaching and research in highly-specialized fields with the aim of developing practical and applicable abilities needed to take on specialized work. However, programs in Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences (Clinical), and Veterinary Medical Science cannot be established at PVU.

Qualification awarded
Bachelor's degree (Professional)
*Some PVUs divide their courses into two levels - first half (前期zenki) (2 or 3 years) and second half (後期koki) (1 or 2 years). When a student completes the first half (zenki) only at such institution, Associate degree (Professional) is awarded.
Program length
4 years
Requirements for graduation
Enrollment for 4 years or more and 124 or more credits earned. The credits must include 40 or more in subjects of practicum, skills training, or experiment, and within those 40 credits, 20 or more must be from on-site training conducted off-campus.
Early graduation
Students who have enrolled for 3 years or more at a PVU and have earned the required credits with excellent grades may graduate early.

Junior College, Professional and Vocational Junior College (PVJC)

Junior College

Qualification awarded
Associate degree (Title of Associate was awarded until 2005)
Program length
2 or 3 years
Requirements for graduation
For 2-year program, enrollment for 2 years or more and 62 or more credits earned.
For 3-year program, enrollment for 3 years or more and 93 or more credits earned.
Early graduation
There is no system of early graduation at junior colleges.

Professional and Vocational Junior College (PVJC)

PVJC is a type of junior college that pursues teaching and research in highly-specialized fields with the aim to develop practical and applicable abilities needed to take on specialized work.

Qualification awarded
Associate degree (Professional)
Program length
2 or 3 years
Requirements for graduation
For 2-year program, enrollment for 2 years or more and 62 or more credits earned. The credits must include 20 or more in subjects of practicum, skills training, or experiment, and within those 20 credits, 10 or more must be from on-site training conducted off-campus.

For 3-year program, enrollment for 3 years or more, and 93 or more credits earned. The credits must include 30 or more in subjects of practicum, skills training, or experiment, and within those 30 credits, 15 or more must be from on-site training conducted off-campus.
Early graduation
There is no system of early graduation at PVJC.

Graduate School, Professional Graduate School

Graduate school, Master’s program

Qualification awarded
Master's degree
Standard program length
2 years
Requirements for completion
To fulfill all of the following:
  1. Enrollment for 2 or more years (may differ depending on the standard length of the program).
  2. 30 or more credits earned.
  3. Received necessary supervision for research, and passed dissertation defense and examination on the Master’s thesis or research project on a specific topic.
Early completion
Students who have enrolled in a Master’s program for 1 year or more and made excellent research achievement may complete early.

Graduate school, Doctoral program

Qualification awarded
Doctoral degree
Standard program length
5 years (Some doctoral programs divide their curriculum into the first two years’ Master’s level (前期zenki) and the following three years’ Doctoral level (後期koki). The Master’s level (zenki) is referred to as "Master’s program" on this website.)
Requirements for completion
To fulfill all of the following:
  1. Enrollment for 5 years or more (may differ depending on the standard length of the program; includes 2 years of Master’s program)
  2. 30 or more credits earned (not required for persons who hold Master’s degree or Professional degree)
  3. Received necessary supervision for research, and passed dissertation defense and examination.
Early completion
Students who have enrolled in a Doctoral program for 3 years or more and made excellent research achievement may complete early.

Professional Graduate School

Professional Graduate School assumes a leadership role in various areas of society, providing graduate courses (professional degrees) which specialize in fostering highly-specialized professionals who will be active internationally. Among the Professional Graduate Schools, law school aims to provide education for legal professional training, and Professional Graduate School for Teacher Education aims to provide education for the training of teachers with highly-specialized abilities and excellent qualities.

Qualification awarded
Professional degrees [Master of xxx (Professional), J.D. (Juris Doctor), Master of Education (Professional)]
Standard program length
Each school decides the length of the program, either 2 years or within a range of 1 to 2 years.
3 years for law school.
Requirements for completion
Professional Graduate School Enrollment for 2 years or more (may differ depending on the standard length of the program) and 30 or more credits earned.
Law school Enrollment for 3 years or more (may differ depending on the standard length of the program) and 93 or more credits earned.
Professional Graduate Schools for Teacher Education Enrollment for 2 years or more (may differ depending on the standard length of the program) and 45 or more credits earned.
Early completion
When the school recognizes credits earned before admission as part of its curriculum after a student is qualified to enter a Professional Graduate School, the student may shorten the period of required enrollment as follows.
Professional Graduate School For half the duration of standard program length at maximum (must be enrolled for at least one year).
Law school For one year at maximum (in addition to the above condition, also applicable for those who are recognized as having the basic knowledge of legal studies required by the school).
Professional Graduate Schools for Teacher Education For half the duration of standard program length at maximum (must be enrolled for at least one year).

College of Technology (KOSEN)

College of Technology (KOSEN) is a type of HEI that provides five-year consistent professional education for graduates of lower secondary school, placing emphasis on experiments and practicums. KOSENs foster practical and creative engineers who will support the manufacturing industry.

Qualification awarded
Title of Associate
Program length
5 years.
For Mercantile Shipping, 5 years 6 months.
Requirements for graduation
167 or more credits earned.
For Mercantile Shipping, 147 or more credits earned.
Early graduation
There is no system of early graduation at Colleges of Technology.

Professional Training College (Specialized Training College that Offers Post-Secondary Course)

Specialized Training College that offers Post-secondary Course (専門課程)(2) can be called "Professional Training College (専門学校)". Post-secondary Course provides education with the aim to develop the abilities necessary for work and everyday life, or to enhance liberal arts, on top of the foundation of upper secondary education [Articles 124-125 of the School Education Act]. Persons who have completed Post-secondary Courses approved by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) are awarded title of Diploma (専門士) or Advanced Diploma (高度専門士).

(2)Other than Post-secondary Course, Specialized Training College can also establish Upper Secondary Course (高等課程) and General Course (一般課程). Graduates of lower secondary school or those who are deemed as equivalent are eligible for admission to an Upper Secondary Course, and persons who have completed an Upper Secondary Course designated by the Minister of MEXT are eligible for admission to a university. Specialized Training Colleges that offer Upper Secondary Course can be called ‘Upper Secondary Specialized Training School (高等専修学校).’ There are no prerequisites stipulated by laws and regulations for admission to a General Course.

Qualification awarded
Diploma or Advanced Diploma
[Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 84 of 1994]

Note: These titles are awarded only to those who have completed programs approved by the Minister of MEXT to award the title.

Note: Even if the program is not approved to award these titles, completion of Post-secondary course itself is recognized as a qualification.
Program length
1 year or more
[Article 124, item (i) of the School Education Act]

Note: Programs must be 2 years or more to be approved to award Diploma and/or to make the graduates eligible for transfer to a university, admission to an advanced course of a junior college or College of Technology.
[Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 84 of 1994; Article 132 of the School Education Act; Article 155, paragraph (2), item (iv) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act; Article 177, item (iv) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act]

Note: Programs must be 4 years or more to be approved to award Advanced Diploma and/or to make the graduates eligible for admission to advanced course of university, advanced course of Professional and Vocational University, graduate school, and Professional Graduate School.
[Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 84 of 1994; Article 155, paragraph (1), item (v) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act]
Requirements for completion
Daytime courses - Completion of a minimum of 800 credit hours multiplied by the number of years of the program.
Credit-based daytime courses - Enrolment for the program length or more, and acquisition of a minimum of 30 credits multiplied by the number of years of the program.

Evening courses - Completion of a minimum of 450 credit hours multiplied by the number of years of the program (at least 800 hours if it is less than 800 credit hours).
Credit-based evening courses - Enrolment for the program length or more, and acquisition of a minimum of 17 credits multiplied by the number of years of the program (at least 30 credits if it is less than 30 credits).

Correspondence courses - Enrolment for the program length or more, acquisition of a minimum of 17 credits multiplied by the number of years of the program (at least 30 credits if it is less than 30 credits), and completion of face-to-face classes for a minimum of 120 credit hours multiplied by the number of years of the program.
[Article 17, 27, 37 of Standards for the Establishment of Specialized Training Colleges]

Note: Programs must require completion of 1,700 credit hours (62 credits) or more to be approved to award Diploma and/or to make the graduates eligible for transfer to a university and admission to an advanced course of a junior college or College of Technology.
[Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 84 of 1994; Article 132 of the School Education Act; Article 155, paragraph (2), item (iv) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act; Article 177, item (iv) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act; Article 186 of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act; Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 125 of 1998]]

Note: Programs must require completion of 3,400 credit hours (124 credits) to be approved to award Advanced Diploma and/or to make the graduates eligible for admission to advanced course of university, advanced course of Professional and Vocational University, graduate school, and Professional Graduate School.
[Public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 84 of 1994; Article 155, paragraph (1), item (v) of the Enforcement Regulation of the School Education Act; Public notice of MEXT No. 138 of 2005]
Early completion
There is no system of early completion at Professional Training Colleges.

Professional Post-Secondary Course (職業実践専門課程 Shokugyo-jissen-senmon-katei)

Professional Post-secondary Courses are offered at certain Professional Training Colleges, and are approved by Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) as courses which involve close collaboration with private companies, organizations, etc., and offer practical vocational education where students learn the latest, most-advanced, practical knowledge, techniques, and skills. On August 30, 2013, “Regulations concerning the approval of Professional Post-secondary Courses within Specialized Training Colleges that offer Post-secondary Courses” (public notice of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology No. 133 of 2013) were promulgated, and came into effect in April 2014. The goal of these regulations was to maintain and improve levels of vocational education within Post-secondary Courses at Specialized Training Colleges. A course that has been approved as a Professional Post-secondary Course has the following characteristics:

  1. A collaborative system with private companies, organizations, etc., has been secured, and a curriculum with subjects has been organized.
  2. In collaboration with private companies, organizations, etc., subjects of practicum, seminar, etc. are offered.
  3. In collaboration with private companies, organizations, etc., teacher training is implemented for the acquisition of the latest practical skills and teaching abilities.
  4. Private companies, organizations, etc. participate in the school evaluation.
  5. Information is provided on a dedicated website regarding details such as the school curriculum, its faculty and staff, etc.

On the graduation certificate and other certification documents of a person who has completed a Professional Post-secondary Course, it may be stated that the completed course is a Professional Post-secondary Course.

From AY2013 to AY2021, 3,149 courses at 1,070 schools have received approval as Professional Post-secondary Courses, accounting for approximately 42% of all courses that have a program length of two or more years. (Figures of designated courses etc. in AY2020 [Japanese only])

▶ For further details and list of approved courses of “職業実践専門課程 (Professional Post-secondary Course)”, please refer to the MEXT website [Japanese only].

Educational Institutions Operated by Government Ministries and Agencies

Educational institutions operated by government ministries and agencies are educational facilities other than schools, that are regulated by laws other than the School Education Act. Among them, there are some cases in which universities can award credits if the university approves that the education of the institution is equivalent to the level of university education (public notice of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture No. 68 of 1991). For those who completed a curriculum approved by NIAD-QE, degrees are awarded by NIAD-QE after passing designated examinations.

Qualification awarded
Cannot award degrees or titles
Program length
Depends on institution and curriculum
Requirements for completion
Depends on institution and curriculum

Educational Institutions Operated by Government Ministries and Agencies that are included in the scope of the Tokyo Convention

National College of Nursing, Japan

An HEI of Nursing Science established by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare with the purpose of training people to become nurses and midwives and work as staff members of the National Centers for Advanced and Specialized Medical Care (NCs). It is established as a facility for teaching theories and expertise of nursing, research, and training and is operated by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine. (Reference: Act on National Research and Development Corporation, which conducts research on highly specialized medical care 高度専門医療に関する研究等を行う国立研究開発法人に関する法律[Japanese only])

Polytechnic University

Established by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which has three foundational operations: (1) fostering vocational training instructors, (2) training of vocational training instructors (re-training), and (3) research on development and improvement of vocational skills. It is operated by the Japan Organization for Employment of the Elderly, Persons with Disabilities and Job Seekers (JEED). (Reference: Human Resources Development Promotion Act 職業能力開発促進法[Japanese only])

National Fisheries University

An HEI related to fisheries established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It aims at providing scientific fundamentals and technologies on fisheries for cultivating human resources contributing to fisheries. It is managed by the National Research and Development Agency, Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA) and receives funding from the government. (Reference: National Research and Development Agency, Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency Act 国立研究開発法人水産研究・教育機構法[Japanese only])