As Japan struggles to contain radiation leaking from a damaged nuclear-power plant, some universities have postponed the start of their academic year, while administrators worry about the long-term impact of the disaster on recruitment of foreign students and faculty members.
More than a week after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, causing the damage to the reactor, some university students in the hardest-hit areas remain missing, and five have been confirmed dead.
Waseda University, one of the leading private institutions in Japan, announced that it would delay the start of the new academic year by at least two weeks, until May 5, as it struggled to deal with the aftermath of the disasters.
Sophia University and other top private institutions in Tokyo are considering following suit. Universities there have had to deal with rolling power outages and other limitations on their activities.
Universities in the capital and elsewhere are reporting cancellations of contracts by part-time foreign instructors worried by radiation leakages from the crippled nuclear plant north of Tokyo. Many embassies, including those of France and Germany, have advised their citizens in Japan to avoid Tokyo, and some have urged evacuation.
Last week a number of American universities, along with Temple University's branch campus in Tokyo, pulled their U.S. students out of the country following a State Department warning about elevated radioactivity levels.
Japan's Ministry of Education said some public universities in the northeast had pushed the start of the academic year back by several weeks.
Impact on Recruitment
Many institutions are already worrying about the effect of the disaster on teacher and student recruitment.
"The impact on enrollment will be quite serious," said Akiyoshi Yonezawa, who studies higher-education issues at Nagoya University. "We should expect a significant drop in the number of international students, specially in Tokyo."
The unresolved state of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, where engineers are working to bring the plant under control, will add to Japan's difficulties, he said.
"There is no question that at least for a little while there will be difficulty in foreign recruitment," said Linda Grove, a history professor and former vice president of Sophia University. "But I find it hard to imagine professors giving up tenured jobs because of panic about radiation."
Japanese universities and colleges are in spring recess. Most in greater Tokyo and in the east and northeast of the country have canceled graduation ceremonies this week. Institutions west of Tokyo, however, are mostly unaffected. "It's like two different countries," said Mr. Yonezawa.
In hard-hit Iwate Prefecture, in northeast Japan, most colleges are still trying to find missing students.
Four university students were killed in nearby Miyagi Prefecture, according to the Ministry of Education—three from Kyoto University who were traveling in the area when the tsunami hit, and another from Tohoku University, in Sendai.
"Communications are still disrupted, but we're still trying to get a picture of what is going on," said Yoshikazu Tagashira, a higher-education official at the ministry.
"Four to five percent of our students here are still unaccounted for," said Bern Mulvey, an associate professor of English at Iwate University, which has about 10,000 students.
The region continues to suffer from power cuts and shortages of fuel and other necessities. Broken elevators and some structural damage have been reported on university campuses in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.
The main challenge since the earthquake and tsunami struck has been transportation," Mr. Mulvey said. "We're only starting to get gasoline, which was diverted to emergency use, so there are no buses or taxis. Students won't be able to get housing until April, so we will probably have to postpone opening, too."
Three foreign professors at Iwate have left the country. "Our assumption," Mr. Mulvey said, "is that they'll come back when the situation stabilizes."