Japan aims high with 400,000 int’ls by 2033 ambition

Published 23/03/2023

Japan’s government has unveiled an ambition to get 400,000 international students into the country by the year 2033.

In the fifth meeting of the Council of the Creation of Future Education, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida indicated the targets were necessary to bolster Japan’s overseas education standing.

The move will replace the original 2018 plan to get 300,000 international students into Japan, and will also look at supercharging the number of Japanese students studying abroad.

Statistics show that as of May 1, 2021, there were 242,444 international students in the country, a 13.3% decrease from the previous year. China, Vietnam and Nepal make up the top three sending countries.

This is a fall from the peak in 2019, when the country hosted a total of 312,214 international students.

Kishida told the council that he wanted specific figures in the plan, “such as the aim of achieving 500,000 Japanese students studying abroad and 400,000 international students by 2033”.

“In order to achieve this goal, I would like to ask you to make more detailed proposals such as expanding the medium-to-long-term overseas dispatch of Japanese students,” he told the council.

He also said it would take various avenues to successfully reach both the inbound and outbound goals; he suggested the promotion of English language education and cultural education, as well as reviews into residence status and even promoting job-hunting assistance for international graduates and returning Japanese students.

The plan will also include improving the “environment of universities working on internationalisation”.

“I think this goal is of course motivated by Japan’s plunging population. Japan needs to start making up for budget shortfalls by bringing in new students,” Benjamin McCracken, director of JCMU’s Hikone Campus, told The PIE News.

“First for me is the question of whether Japanese universities can even support this many students.

“Most universities do not seem to understand that foreign students need care beyond what Japanese students have in my opinion, they have lagged behind in providing students with access to things like medical support. One university I know of has other students helping to take international students to the hospital,” he explained.

Kishida also mentioned that Japan would need to promote “international exchange with G7 members” to help with bringing up the numbers – but did not specify what exchange this entailed.

“Japan needs to start making up for budget shortfalls by bringing in new students”

If Japan wants to reach the goals it is laying out, it would need to offer more programs in English, according to McCracken.

“While there are a lot of students who are interested in Japanese, it does appear that at least from the US, students have less and less desire to learn Japanese intensively,” McCracken added.

Meanwhile, Japan’s outbound student ambitions are also reaching for the skies – with that immense ambition of 500,000 Japanese students studying abroad. According to Davide Rossi from Go! Go! Nihon, Japan won’t be the only non-English speaking country looking to reach these heights.

“It really depends on what the plan is to increase the number by so much; the statement itself doesn’t mean a lot,” Rossi told The PIE.

For McCracken, the idea itself is “an impossible”. For a start, he said, institutions need to ease back on strict schedules that demand graduation in four years, and the government should really look at integrating education abroad into degrees before looking at encouraging students to go abroad for full programs.

“The [students] who have done it successfully in the past few years have gone on one-for-one changes where they’ve paid their local Japanese tuition only – what’s more, Japanese English proficiency is still too low.

“Japan could also look at allowing students to study other languages in high school other than English. I think this could well be the biggest factor in helping students to get abroad,” McCracken suggested.

The announcement made by Kishida comes after it was reported that more overseas nationals are staying in Japan than ever before.

“If it wants to attract talented people it needs to offer something to make Japan better than average”

Data suggests that more than 40% of overseas nationals have been in Japan for over three years, and that the number of international graduates choosing to stay is also increasing. But if it is to compete with other destinations in post-study work, there needs to be better provisions for visas.

Currently, incentives for foreign workers are particularly low. McCracken suggested a lowering of taxes or other incentives for them.

“If it wants to attract talented people it needs to offer something to make Japan better than average for the long term,” he added.

Currently, both Rossi and McCracken evaluate that the plan Kishida has put forward, while interesting, is simply not substantial enough for inbound student mobility, and certainly not for outbound.

“There is no culture of accountability and usually the government says something and leaves it to the party affected – in this case universities, Japanese language schools, and agencies – to figure out how to reach those numbers,” Rossi commented.

“More students will come here, especially once the Japanese embrace going maskless again, but in terms of Japanese students going abroad, the government would really need to amp up the financial support, not just for short term students, but for students getting degrees abroad as well,” McCracken added.

Kishida indicated that education minister Keiko Nagaoka would be putting forward a second recommendation at the end of April.

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