By Joyce Lau for Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/only-top-foreign-students-japan-receive-coronavirus-aid
It has emerged that a Japanese government plan to provide financial assistance to students will benefit only the top-performing overseas pupils.
The country’s government was lauded when it approved cash handouts to tertiary students to help offset tuition and other costs amid an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s most important for students not to abandon continuing and advancing their education,” Koichi Hagiuda, the education minister, said in May. “We’d like to quickly provide assistance to all.”
Low-income students will be given ¥200,000 (£1,600), while other students will receive half that amount.
After the government announcement, however, communications with universities and other institutions revealed that only some international students would qualify, the Kyodo news agency reported.
While all local students will benefit, international students must fulfil multiple requirements. These include having a 2.30 grade-point average and an 80 per cent class attendance rate. Those receiving a certain monthly allowance, or those dependent on high-income overseas individuals, may be disqualified. International students must also have lost income from part-time jobs. On top of that, institutions could have to confirm which recipients were “unable to continue their studies due to financial constraints”.
The GPA requirement alone would disqualify all but the top 25 to 30 per cent of international students.
Akiko Morozumi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Education, told Times Higher Education that she was “very surprised to hear the Ministry of Education’s policy to apply conditions only to international students when allocating financial aid. This is highly undesirable.”
Her institution, widely known as Todai, applies equal criteria for all students when awarding financial support.
“Once a student has been accepted to a Japanese university, there is no reason whatsoever to discriminate against them on the basis of their nationality,” she said. “In fact, I’m sure that there are many cases when international students in Japan face many more challenges than domestic students, including financially.”
Yuichi Kondo, dean of admissions at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), told THE that the institution was still waiting for the government to detail aid for international students, who make up about half its student body.
“I don’t think they did a very good job saying they only want to give money to excellent students,” Professor Kondo said.
However, he added, “It’s tax money and it has to have a good reason, because many Japanese students are also in trouble.”
Like many institutions, APU has been providing its own emergency aid. “The Ritsumeikan Trust has decided to provide assistance to all students,” Professor Kondo confirmed. Alumni have also launched an initiative called APU Hands, which has donated food to several hundred needy students, both local and international, with support from the local community.
Futao Huang, a professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, told THE that “aid is important for international students”.
“A huge majority of them do part-time jobs while studying at HEIs and Japanese language institutes,” he said. “Because of Covid-19, most of them could hardly work as they used to and would leave their HEIs due to the financial problems.”
However, he continued, the plan sounded “relatively fair” because foreign students are not local taxpayers. “International students with good academic performances would be greatly helped, and it may also potentially encourage other international students to study hard for excellent academic results,” he said.
“Both the government and individual HEIs should be accountable and transparent while the plan and relevant measures are applied to individual international students.”
Recently, Japan has greatly increased its number of international students, from 164,000 in 2011 to 310,000 in 2019, according to the Japan Student Services Organisation.
“Attracting global talents, including quality inbound international students, has been one of the most important national policies for the past decade,” Professor Huang said, adding that they contributed to research, internationalisation and supported Japanese institutions through fees.
In explaining its decision, the Education Ministry said: “With many foreign students eventually returning to their home countries, we have set a condition to limit the handout to promising talent most likely to contribute to Japan in the future.”