Debate over Raising Tuition: Who Should Support Management of National Universities?

The management of national universities is becoming increasingly difficult, and there is much debate about raising tuition. Who should shoulder the cost to improve university education? The public and private sectors should work together to deepen the debate.

In an ordinance, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has set the standard tuition to attend national universities at ¥535,800 per year, which can be increased by up to 20% at the discretion of each university. Since the 2019 academic year, seven national universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area, such as Tokyo Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University, have raised their tuition on their own.

The University of Tokyo, whose tuition is set at the standard amount, is also considering raising tuition to ¥642,960, up 20% from the current amount, from the 2025 academic year. Some students have voiced their opposition to the move. Once the increase in tuition is officially decided, it could spread to other national and public universities nationwide.

The government’s operating subsidy, which is used to cover personnel and research expenses, has been on a downward trend. Soaring utility costs and other factors have further aggravated the situation. The Japan Association of National Universities, comprising all 86 such institutions, issued an unusual statement on the critical financial situation, saying that they have reached their “limit.”

Some might argue that increases in tuition are inevitable to foster world-class human resources and continue high-quality education and research activities.

However, this is based on the major premise that thorough efforts to improve management must be made. It is quite natural that easily increasing tuition is unacceptable.

It is essential to take a multifaceted approach, such as increasing joint research with companies to share research expenses and acquiring funds through university-launched startups. It is also important to solicit donations from society at large.

Even if tuition is to be raised, this should be done in conjunction with the expansion of loans and scholarships, tuition exemptions and other measures to reduce the burden on students in financially difficult situations to ensure that they have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

At a subcommittee meeting of the Central Council for Education in March this year, Keio University President Kohei Ito, who is a member of the subcommittee, stated that tuition should be raised to ¥1.5 million at national universities. It is hard to say that an about three-fold increase is realistic, but his remark raised a question regarding the “beneficiary liability” of students who receive education.

There are various views on how the cost of university education should be borne. In France, university education is free and is financed by a large amount of taxes. On the other hand, in some countries, such as the United States, the students receiving the benefit of an education bear the high cost of tuition.

In Japan, university enrollment is expected to decline by more than 20% in the 2040s compared to the current level. The management of universities will likely become even more difficult.

The development of human resources with advanced knowledge and skills is a matter concerning the foundation of the nation. The government, the educational community and the business world need to work together to discuss how universities should operate, including the issue of financial resources.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2024)