Japan aims to regain pre-pandemic level of international students

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign nationals study at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Fuchu, Tokyo, in early June.

The education ministry will try to restore the number of international students in Japan, and of Japanese students studying abroad, to pre-pandemic levels by 2027.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry aims to increase international students in Japan to about 310,000, and Japanese students abroad to about 120,000. To that end, it will strengthen such measures as promoting Japan’s appeal as a study destination and helping international students find employment here.

A draft on global policy centered around university education will be submitted by the ministry to a Wednesday meeting of the university subdivision of the Central Council for Education.

The government announced in 2008 a plan to increase the number of international students in Japan to 300,000 by 2020, and the number grew to a record 310,000 in 2019. However, the entry of foreign nationals has been restricted since February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of May 2021, international students in Japan had dropped by 20% from their peak to 242,444, with about 200,000 studying at Japanese universities and graduate schools, and about 40,000 enrolled in Japanese language schools. The 2021 figure included about 20,000 students attending Japanese institutions remotely from overseas, so the number of foreign nationals physically studying in Japan was even lower.

The government eased entry restrictions for international students in March, and new students are gradually coming in. However, the current situation is “far from the level before the coronavirus disaster,” according to an education ministry official.

Amid such situation, the ministry has decided to resume and expand measures to encourage foreign nationals to study in Japan. Specific steps include providing information in cooperation with Japanese universities’ overseas bases regarding the advantages of studying in Japan and examples of international students who found employment here; and supporting local governments and private companies in their efforts to help international students find jobs or start their own businesses in Japan after graduation.

The number of Japanese students studying abroad reached a record 115,146 in the 2018 academic year, but plunged to 1,487 in 2020.

To help Japanese nationals study abroad, the ministry is considering expanding scholarship programs, such as providing university tuition support of up to ¥2.5 million per year. It also aims to increase the number of companies and local governments participating in a public-private sector cooperation program, and to promote study abroad programs for high school students as well as university students.

The ministry is focusing on attracting international students because Japan’s low birthrate makes it essential to bring in talented people from around the world to improve the nation’s educational and research capabilities.

However, Japan has been implementing stricter entry control measures than most Western nations.

A 22-year-old American who gave up on going to Japan to study after waiting for two years said Japan was cold toward international students.

University officials have expressed hope for a recovery in the number of international students.

“[Japan] needs to establish a system that allows international students to enter the country in a stable manner, and work to restore the lost trust,” said Kazuhiro Shiozaki, president of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology. “An environment in which [Japanese people can] study alongside international students with a diverse range of values is essential for the development of global human resources.”