Will Japan be able to attract international students?



As in many other countries, the number of international students on Japanese campuses has declined due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data from the Japan Student Services Organization, the total number of international students fell from 279,597 in 2019 to 242,440 in 2020, a reduction rate of 13.3%. Additionally, the employment rate of international students in Japan also declined to 39.9% in 2020 from 47.6% in 2019.

In order to change the situation, the Japanese government launched the Global policy direction based on higher education: towards the resumption of student exchanges which have been drastically reduced due to COVID-19 on July 26, 2022. The goal is to return to pre-pandemic levels of welcoming international students and sending domestic students abroad within the next five years.

With regard to incoming international students, the government has formulated several specific strategies. In cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) will redefine priority areas and regions from which international students will be accepted in light of of changing needs.

On the disciplinary level, greater priority will be given to the recruitment of international students in engineering, medicine, social sciences (in particular law) and agriculture. By region, more targeted efforts will be made to attract international students from countries in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region and Africa.

The government will also strengthen the dissemination of information to international students in cooperation with study abroad centers and public relations agencies and promote the attractiveness of Japan for international students who wish to study in Japan.

Work in Japan

Another element of the strategy is to strengthen support for international students seeking employment and setting up their own businesses.

The government will further encourage the development of educational programs centered on Japanese business language teaching and internships, which are considered important skills for international students looking to work in Japan after graduation.

In addition, the strategy will also expand the support needed to encourage international students to participate in such programs in Japan and ensure that they do not drop out.

This will be coupled with better employment support for international students. In cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies, MEXT will make additional efforts to support the employment and retention of international students by forming a consortium consisting of local governments, universities, economic organizations, Japanese companies, etc. ., In the region.

In cooperation with relevant ministries, agencies and universities, the government will also strengthen the network of former Japanese government scholarship students who studied in Japan, encourage them to contribute to internationalization work, and revitalize this network to attract international students to the future.

In addition, in order to promote the smooth acceptance of international students, the government will introduce a new bill on a new qualification system for Japanese language teachers and an accreditation system to maintain and improve the standard of Japanese language institutions. Japanese language teaching.

In order to promote continued study at Japanese universities and the future retention of international students, the government will also actively encourage the acceptance of senior high school international students and support the development of an inclusive and tolerant environment.

The search for international talent

There are several reasons for the government to implement this strategy. Since the early 1990s, Japan’s 18-year-old population has been shrinking, so securing high-level international talent, including international students, is seen as vital to boosting Japan’s social development in the future. .

International students are expected to become a labor pool of Japanese society. The demand for highly qualified international talent is growing in a wide range of fields in Japan, and the need to accept more excellent international students than ever before from other countries has become a pressing issue in recent years.

Furthermore, since the number of private universities and colleges and private students accounts for about 80% of the total students and the operation of the private sector is largely based on charging tuition and fees to students, it is hoped that accepting international students can help these private institutions to improve their financial situation.

Additionally, accepting international students is seen as an important way to improve the quality and diversity of Japanese higher education and to internationalize Japanese society in general.

Like many other Asian countries, Japan has launched national projects to build world-class universities over the past decade. High-quality international students are expected to boost and improve Japan’s level of education and research and global competitiveness.

Finally, hosting international students is also seen as an effective way to build bridges between Japan and their home countries by giving them a good understanding of Japan in order to help promote international exchanges, understanding mutual and friendship with other countries.

The challenges of internationalization

There is no doubt that Japan will face many challenges when it comes to achieving the goals of this internationalization strategy.

Japan was the center of learning in Asia in the 20th century. However, several Chinese universities have been ranked higher than Japanese universities in several global university ranking systems in recent years. China’s global presence and the impact of its research on scientific and technological development have become increasingly clear and powerful.

This is one of the factors that has contributed to Chinese universities and research institutes attracting more international students and talent than Japan by 2019.

Also, unlike countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which have high levels of immigration, the extent to which Japanese society can accept large numbers of international students wishing to stay and work in Japan after graduation is not entirely clear. This may affect the successful achievement of strategy objectives.

More importantly, countries like South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have announced more generous visa policies. Japan needs to find effective ways to compete with these countries and systems and become an attractive destination for international students.

The changing landscape of higher education, especially the impact of geopolitical developments in the region, will inevitably affect the flow of incoming international students to Japan. For example, students from mainland China have continued to be the largest group of international students since the 1990s and now constitute almost half of the total number.

Whether it is a change in ideology or geopolitical policy or a change in policy regarding COVID-19, the number of Chinese students studying in Japanese universities may decrease and this will undoubtedly affect in a large measure of Japan’s ability to achieve its desired goals in the next five years.

Futao Huang is a professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, Japan.


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