Don’t let students cut education short as pandemic causes financial hardship

An increasing number of university students are facing financial hardship due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and are having trouble continuing their studies. It is necessary to keep students from losing their motivation and to enhance support for their learning and living.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, from April to December last year, 1,367 students dropped out of universities and junior colleges across the country due to the coronavirus crisis. Another 4,434 took a temporary leave from school. As reasons, many cited financial difficulties, maladjustment to student life and declining motivation to study.

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, the number of people who drop out of school or take a temporary leave from school is increasing, making this a serious situation.

In the last academic year, parents and guardians of students from outside the Tokyo metropolitan area provided a monthly average of ¥82,400 to students at private universities in the area. The figure was the lowest since the federation of unions for teachers and employees at private universities began tracking it in the 1986 academic year. The cause is believed to be a decrease in family incomes.

The amount of money sent to students by their parents and guardians has been decreasing since its peak in the mid-1990s, and many students rely on part-time jobs to cover their living expenses. Some have complained of very serious situations in which they have lost their part-time jobs as the operating hours of eating and drinking establishments and other businesses have been restricted due to the coronavirus crisis, leaving them unable to afford even food and sanitary products.

For students in financial difficulty, many universities have extended deadlines for tuition fees, or reduced or even waived the fees. However, the number of people eligible for reductions or waivers is limited, and some students are not even aware of the system. It is important for universities to expand their support measures and make them better known.

The government should also provide more financial assistance to universities and help them support students financially.

Some local governments have offered support measures, such as sending rice and other relief supplies to students who are living in the municipalities, and to those who are from the municipalities but are studying at universities elsewhere, and establishing their own scholarships. Other universities also provide meals to students at low prices. Such efforts should be further expanded in creative ways.

It is worrisome that not a few students are losing their motivation to learn. This may be because online classes have increased to prevent the spread of infections, and opportunities to interact directly with teachers and fellow students, and participate in club activities, have decreased.

Some students become emotionally isolated due to stress and are unable to continue their studies. Universities should promote exchanges between teachers and students while closely monitoring the infection situation in the community.

It is also important for universities to contact students on a regular basis to hear from them if there are any problems with their lives or financial conditions, and to give them appropriate advice. They need to put in place a detailed consultation system so that information can be disseminated to each student.

With no end to the pandemic in sight, the situation remains difficult for students. It is time for the government and universities to consider measures from a long-term perspective.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 23, 2021.