Japan Urges High Schoolers to Study Abroad in Bid for Global Talent

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Students are given lessons by an English teacher from New Zealand at Kyoto University of Advanced Science’s Senior High School, in this photo taken on June 7 in Kyoto.

In a bid to foster global talent, the government has set a target of 120,000 for the number of Japanese high school students studying abroad ten years from now in 2033.

The change is aimed at enabling young people to broaden their international perspectives, thus making use of such an experience for their career options in future.

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, the trend of studying abroad among Japanese youth has resumed. Yet, there remain barriers for high school students, such as their eventual preparation for university entrance examinations upon their return home, and the high cost of studying abroad.

Post-COVID days

“When writing essays in English, it is important to write the ‘objectives’ in the introduction.”

An English teacher from New Zealand gave this advice to a class of second-year students taking the international studies curriculum at Kyoto University of Advanced Science’s Senior High School. The students are preparing to study abroad from September.

He was teaching them a practical approach to writing English compositions so that they can readily adjust to school life overseas.

At this private school, students who take a course in international studies are required to study abroad. The 60 or so sophomores taking this course are scheduled to study in foreign countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada for seven to 10 months.

Saeri Kogita, 17, a third-year student who has been studying in Canada since last autumn, said, “Having lived abroad, my desire to be engaged in work that disseminates to the world the good points of my home country has become clearer than before.”

In the “Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education” adopted in 2013, the government set a goal of increasing the number of Japanese high school students studying abroad from 30,000 in that year to 60,000 by 2020. The number reached a record high of about 46,900 in fiscal 2017. However, in fiscal 2021, a year hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number plummeted to around 3,100.

Later, travel restrictions were eased in many countries around the world, including Japan. The “Fourth Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education,” approved by the cabinet on June 16, clearly states the promotion of high school students studying abroad.

A senior official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry emphasized that “it is a matter of urgency to foster global human resources as international competition intensifies in the business world and other fields.”

Fear of lagging behind

However, there are problems with studying abroad at the high school level. One of them is the university entrance exam that students take after returning home.

During their study in foreign countries, students are likely to be preoccupied with their classwork at local schools, making it difficult for them to balance their studies there with their preparation for university entrance exams upon their return home.

A vice-principal of a Tokyo metropolitan high school said, “Many of the students who have returned from studying abroad noticeably lag behind their peers in science and mathematics subjects, which progress faster in Japanese schools than in foreign countries, and in classical Japanese and Chinese literature.”

A vice-principal at a public high school in the Kanto region also said, “Studying abroad for the long-term would inevitably affect students’ preparation for university entrance exams.” Most students at this high school choose to stay in school for one additional year if they sit for university entrance exams through a general screening process of written examination.

At Kyoto University of Advanced Science’s Senior High School, many of those students who have studied abroad will often apply for the comprehensive-type selection, in which they undergo a screening process of evaluating applicants through interviews and essays.

Chika Hashimoto, the director of the international department at the school, says: “Admission quotas for students applying through the comprehensive-type entrance examination are still very low. If the number of entrance examinations that are easier for students who have studied abroad to take were to be expanded, it would be an encouragement for students.”

Lower cost barrier

The high cost of studying abroad is also a factor that makes students shy away from the venture.

Yukari Kato, editor-in-chief of magazine “Ryugaku Journal” which provides informations about studying abroad, said the cost of a stay over one year in North America, for instance, is more than ¥3 million. She explained, “Due to the depreciation of the yen, price increases and other factors, the cost has soared from previous years.”

However, support from the state government is hardly sufficient.

The education ministry’s scholarship “Tobitate! (Leap for Tomorrow) Study Abroad Initiative,” a scholarship program based on private donations, supplies a stipend of up to ¥160,000 a month. But only 700 students are eligible for this program each year.

The ministry also has a support program for students studying abroad for a short time, but this one-off support is limited to ¥60,000 per person.

The principal of an Osaka prefectural high school said: “Recently, the number of participants in briefing sessions for study abroad programs has been decreasing. Many families may have become hesitant because of the heavy financial burden involved.”

Himawari Motojima, a 19-year-old freshman at Toyo University in Tokyo, studied for nine months in her mother’s native country, the Philippines, when she was in high school. She was able to keep her expenses down by living at a relative’s house.

After returning to Japan, she devised a business plan of having local residents in the impoverished areas she saw over there sell cold drinks, using refrigerators they rent out. The plan, intended to help them become self-reliant, won first place in a contest held in Japan.

She said: “It would have been difficult [for me] to study abroad if it had cost too much. I hope that the financial support will be increased, also for students younger than me.”

Sachihiko Kondo, president of the Japan Association for International Student Education and a professor at Osaka University, said: “It is important for their future that students experience different cultures and gain experiences where they feel surprise and frustration at a young age. For high school students to be able to study abroad without anxiety, the government needs to not only set goals but also create an environment that makes it easier for them to study abroad.”