Education ministry strategizing to bring foreign students back to Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Foreign students attend a class at a university in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in November 2021.

The government plans to revise its basic strategy for accepting foreign students in an effort to restore the numbers of such students, which dropped due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to sources.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry intends to set up a panel of experts soon to review priority academic areas and target countries and regions from which to draw students, sources said.

According to the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of foreign students enrolled in programs in Japan was 242,444 as of May 2021. The ministry has set a goal of bringing the number back to the pre-pandemic level of 310,000 by 2027.

Under the current strategy, devised in 2013, the focus has been placed on four academic areas: engineering, medicine, legal systems and agriculture. The ministry plans to add digital, which has become increasingly important in recent years, and green transformation, which aims at decarbonization, to the areas of focus in the new strategy. Measures to increase the number of international students who major in science and engineering are also expected to be a focal point in the strategy review.

Currently, students from nine major parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, Africa and the United States, have been specified as priority targets. The ministry is considering placing an additional focus on students from Europe, the sources said. The number of foreign students from Europe accounts for 2% to 3% of the total, but the figure nearly halved from 10,345 in 2019 to 5,622 in 2021, marking a significant decrease due to the pandemic compared with other regions.

Foreign students are expected to play a role in strengthening ties between Japan and their own countries after they return home.

“Europe is important for Japan also from the viewpoint of promoting cooperation with democratic countries that share values,” a senior ministry official said.

Russia and Belarus had been included in the priority targets, but these countries were removed from the list following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ministry intends to confirm that these countries will stay off the list in the strategy review.

When revising the strategy, the ministry also plans to compile specific measures to restore foreign student numbers. It wants to include the measures in the second set of proposals to be put forward next spring by the council for creating the future of education, which is under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.