Japan’s pursuit of meritocracy, cosmopolitanism, and global rankings in higher education: a Bourdieusian interpretation

Michael D. Smith, Bradley D.F. Colpitts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


Through the market-based conception of neoliberal performativity, an interlocking set of socio-economic agendas integrate higher education (HE) in state-level systems of production and accumulation. Within the scope of globalism, the capacity to develop competitive human capital emerges as a proxy indicator of achievement amongst institutions of higher learning. Through this elaborate symbolic structure, Japanese reforms aimed at bolstering “global” soft skills, including English, cosmopolitanism, and interculturality, function alongside an ideological arms race to enhance university rankings and individual investment in education. Invoking a Bourdieusian perspective, this conceptual inquiry suggests that stakeholders consider the secondary effects of asymmetrical efforts towards “élite” education, globalism, and world-class attainment, whereby accompanying policy reform propagates hegemony both locally and internationally. Additionally, the emergence of global soft skills as essential cultural capital challenges the supposed meritocracy of Japan’s HE system. Indeed, the “effort-based-reward” symbolic contract permeating much of the neoliberal discourse fails to account for the functional reality of class-distinguished taste. From this perspective, valuable cultural resources orientate towards a globally conscious, highly-credentialed middle-class privileged in social, economic, and cultural capital, thereby disadvantaging the majority of learners inevitably excluded from study at prestigious, brand-name universities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Education
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2022


  • Bourdieu
  • Higher education
  • internationalisation
  • Japan
  • neoliberalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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