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Why Don't More Japanese Students Study Abroad?


Japanese college students shout and raise their fists during a pep rally held to boost their morale ahead of their job hunt, at an outdoor theatre in Tokyo February 25, 2016.

Are Japanese students too lazy to study abroad long term?

Or are they too busy?

While the Japanese government endeavored in 2013 to double the number of its students studying abroad, instead, the numbers have fallen, says the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Japan’s initiative - “Tobitate!” or “Leap for Tomorrow” - sought to double the number of its university students abroad from 60,000 to 120,000, and the number of high school students abroad from 30,000 to 60,000.That would send 180,000 students abroad by 2020.

But figures from 2014 show a 36 percent decrease from the 2004 peak of 82,945 students abroad long term.

“The government hasn’t provided much support for students who do a long-term study-abroad, especially for those who seek academic degrees at foreign universities at the undergraduate level,” said Yukiko Shimmin, an assistant professor and international education adviser at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, to the Japan Times.

Japanese students are discouraged from studying overseas because of busy academic schedules and time required for clubs, part-time jobs and studying for qualifications that could be useful when job hunting.He said the high language-test scores required for long-term study-abroad programs is a major challenge.

Students in Japan “don’t know the global dynamics,” said Masakazu Watanuki, an economics professor from Chuo University in Tokyo, who sponsors Japanese exchange students to Washington every year.

He said Japanese students have grown somewhat lazy with their comfortable lives in Japan.“They have very little incentive to go abroad,” Watanuki told VOA Student U.

“Japanese students are not challenged enough or motivated to leave the country,” said Minori Takahashi, a sophomore at American University in Washington, who came to the United States for her final two years of high school.“They are just afraid to go out.”

Japanese students feel they have to conform to the same path: high school, college and then a job, she said.Study abroad is not a typical piece of the Japanese educational path.

Another reason for the decrease is the country’s demographics.The number of 18-year-olds in Japan has been dropping since 1991’s peak of two million. Projections see the numbers falling even further to less than one million 18-year-olds by 2031, according to the Japanese Ministry of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology.

However, while long term study has declined, short term has risen, according to Japan Student Services Organization.

One of Watanuki’s students, Madoka Konno, is in a three-week program in Washington before studying in Belgium for nine months.She said she was able to study abroad because of scholarships she received from “Tobitate!” and because she learned English when she was young.

She said she is concerned for Japan’s future if more Japanese students don’t go abroad and experience global business.

“Japanese people have to go abroad and do business abroad,” Konno said.

Takahashi agrees.She said she is afraid Japan will fall behind in the interconnected global economy if more students do not go abroad.

She said more students don’t study abroad because it is too expensive, despite scholarships like “Tobitate!”

According to QS Top Universities, college tuition costs in Japan are between $4,140 and $8,280 annually.

In the United States, the average annual cost for a public university out-of-state was $22,958 for the 2014-2015 academic year. That year, a private school averaged $31,321.

Hitotsubashi’s Shimmin told the Japan Times a rise in short-term study abroad programs at his school is because of funding from the Japan Student Services Organization.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology told the Japan Times the agency has no plans to lower the 180,000 student goal, despite the recent figures.

“I’m sad a lot of students don’t go study abroad,” Konno said.

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