To attract students, universities stay Buddhist in all but name


KYOTO, Japan -- Many university applicants are less than inspired when they see the word "Buddhism" attached to the name. Applications to long-established Buddhist universities have been declining in recent years. In fact, some institutions are only meeting half their quotas.

In response, universities are dropping the word "Buddhism" from their school and faculty names, as images of funerals and conservatism associated with Buddhism can turn off potential applicants.

Even so, the underlying religious spirit will remain unchanged even if the Buddhist colors are toned down, the universities said.

In April, Shuchiin University in Fushimi Ward here will change the name of its Faculty of Buddhism to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

After that, only three four-year universities with a faculty of Buddhism will be left in Japan--Komazawa University and Rissho University, both in Tokyo, and Minobusan University in Minobu, Yamanashi Prefecture.

"We feel sad as Buddhists, but (changing school and faculty names) is perhaps inevitable for private universities to survive," said Taikan Mochizuki, deputy chief of Minobusan University's business office.

Shuchiin University is the only four-year university operating a faculty of Buddhism in western Japan.

Its Faculty of Buddhism has two departments--the Department of Buddhism and the Department of Buddhist Welfare, which was created in 1999, but whose name was changed to the Department of Social Welfare in 2005.

The number of students enrolling in the Department of Buddhism has fallen short of the 50-student quota by about 10 to 40 percent during the past several years.

The Department of Social Welfare also suffers from poor enrollment. The number of students who entered this spring is only about half the quota of 100 students.

The school concluded that the name of the faculty is a key cause.

Its reasoning is that potential students seeking information at the university's Web site lose interest when they see the Faculty of Buddhism and leave the Web site before even reaching the Department of Social Welfare.

The university's origin is Shugei Shuchiin, a school that Kukai, a noted Buddhist monk, opened during the Heian Period (794-1185).

"Shugei means various studies and Shuchi means the teaching of Buddha," said Fumiatsu Sugino, general secretary of the university's administration office. "Even after the faculty's name is changed, our school's founding spirit of fostering students with a broad knowledge will remain intact."

International Buddhist University, based in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture, plans to change its name altogether. From April, it will be known as Shitennoji University.

The school has its roots in Kyoden-in, a Buddhism training school that Prince Shotoku (574-622) opened 1,400 years ago within Shitennoji temple in Osaka.

The number of applicants for the university's entrance exam has dropped over the past decade.

This spring, 1,200 people applied, meaning that more than one in two applicants passed the entrance exam. It was far easier than 10 years ago, when less than one in five applicants was accepted.

"The companies that employ our students highly appreciate them being grounded in Buddhism," said Shunro Morita, chief executive officer of the university. "But (the university's name) does not sit well with some people because of the image of funerals."

Morita said the school decided to change its name because it does not want to spend energy in "clearing such misunderstandings."

The school's curriculum will be reorganized to focus on employment after graduation. Students of all faculties will still be required to earn four credits in Buddhism.

Kohei Yoshiume, a 20-year-old sophomore, welcomes the change.

"(The name) will be more approachable. My friends from high school won't mistake it for Kyoto's Bukkyo University," he said.

International Buddhist University is known in Japanese as Shitennoji Kokusai Bukkyo Daigaku. Bukkyo means Buddhism.

Bukkyo University, meanwhile, combined its department of Buddhist studies with two others--history and Japanese language and literature--to create the Department of the Humanities in 2004.

Tokyo's Taisho University changed its Faculty of Buddhism to the Faculty of Human Studies in 1993.

"Many private colleges are facing tough business and are trying to improve their images among applicants," said an official at a cram school targeting universities.
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