When the Japanese government announced a plan to double the number of Japanese students studying abroad by 2020, most officials doubted its feasibility, citing the inward-oriented tendency of young Japanese. However, the latest released data indicate the possibility of achieving the government’s numerical target. Considering the fact that Canada and Japan have long been on intimate terms regarding higher education, the expected outcome also represents welcome news for Canada and its quest to further develop internationalization of its higher education.
The Japanese government considers young Japanese people’s deep seated inward-oriented tendency (Uchimukishikou in Japanese) to be a serious obstacle for future growth. Although some scholars argue that this characteristic is not solely confined to Japanese youth, there is great interest among Japanese scholars and politicians to understand this tendency among Japanese youth. In comparison to students of neighboring countries such as China and Korea, Japanese students show less willingness to study abroad. According to the UNESCO database, Japan was ranked in 23rd place, with 33,494 post-secondary students studying abroad in 2012. In this same year there were 698,395 students and 121,437 students studying abroad from China and Korea, respectively.
Under such circumstances, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to subsidize “all motivated and able Japanese youth who wish to study abroad” at a meeting hosted by JAPAN AKADEMEIA on May 17, 2013. Less than a year later, a campaign titled “Takeoff! Study Abroad JAPAN” was launched by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).
JAPANESE STUDENTS AND CANADA
Recruiting international students has long been considered an important task among Canadian higher education institutions. Furthermore, Canadian institutions regard Japan as an important international partner. In a survey conducted by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) in 2016, results showed Japan to be among the top 10 countries/regions of interest to the CBIE member institutions. Canada is already a major host country for Japanese students. According to the data released by Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), Canada has been ranked as the second most popular country after the United States for four years in a row.
As of June 2017, two online surveys about study abroad have been conducted by MEXT. The participants in the first survey were 721 college students and 412 company recruitment officers. The participants in the second survey were 618 college students and 824 guardians/parents. The results of these two surveys provide insights into why Canada is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese to study abroad.
Among the questions asked to the recruitment officers in the first survey was “Which areas do you expect Japanese overseas college students to improve during their time abroad?” The most popular answer given was “English” (55%), followed by “Interpersonal communication” (53%) and “Willingness to challenge oneself” (46%). When it comes to language acquisition, recruitment officers considered Chinese (22%) to be the second most popular language to learn after English. Fewer than 14% of participants selected languages other than English or Chinese.
In answer to a question regarding destination choice in the second survey, 20% of the students and 37% of guardians/parents chose Canada as the second most favored country. This was compared to America, which was chosen as the preferred destination for study (36% of students and 69% of guardians/parents). It is noteworthy to mention that the parents/guardians surveyed prioritized non-English speaking European countries like Germany and France (9% and 7%, respectively) over Asian countries. However, the student participants prioritized Asian countries, specifically Korea (5%) and China (5%) over those non-English speaking European countries as a destination for overseas study. In this same survey, in answer to a question regarding key factors related to destination decision-making, “public safety” (52%) was the most selected answer among guardians/parents, followed by “Education institutions and environments that provide what their children want to learn” (48%) and “Improving Language Proficiency” (32%). Meanwhile, among the student participants of this survey “Education institutions and environments that provide what they want to learn” was the most selected factor (44%), followed by “Public Safety” (41%) and “Improving Language Proficiency” (38%).
RECENT POLICY INITIATIVE
After the Japanese government announced in 2013 a plan to double the number of Japanese students studying abroad by 2020, there was a significant increase in Japanese outbound mobility. In fact, Canada benefited more by this policy than other countries in terms of growth rate. According to the most recent MEXT data covering years 2013-2015, there was a 24% increase in student outbound mobility to Canada (from 6,614 students in 2013 to 8,189 students in 2015). This increase in students to Canada was 3% higher than the average growth of total Japanese students enrolled in higher education institutions overseas (21%). On the other hand, during this same 3-year period, the number of students going to the United States increased by only 11%. Surprisingly, during this time the United Kingdom showed a 4% decrease in Japanese students (from 6,519 to 6,281 students). Australia showed an increase from 6,392 to 8,080; representing the highest increase among the top 10 host countries for Japanese post-secondary students (26%).
Despite its geographic distance from Japan, Canada’s growth rate in Japanese students was almost as high as Australia’s. However, the growth patterns between these two countries were distinctly different. In Canada, the number of Japanese students on inter-university exchange programs (exchange students) increased 29% from 4,209 in 2013 to 5,424 in 2015, while the number of non-exchange students to Canada increased by only 15% (from 2,405 to 2,765). Whereas during this same period in Australia, the rates of Japanese exchange and non-exchange students were 21% (from 4,443 to 5,363) and 39% (from 1,949 to 2,717), respectively.
SO FAR, SO GOOD
In 2013, when the Japanese government first announced a plan to double the number of Japanese students studying abroad by 2020 (as part of the project called “Japan Revival Strategy–JAPAN is BACK-”), most officials doubted its feasibility due to the inward-oriented tendency of young Japanese. However, the latest released data indicates the possibility of achieving the government’s numerical target of sending 120,000 students abroad by 2020 (providing the recent rate of growth can be sustained). Considering the fact that Canada and Japan have long been on particularly good terms regarding higher education, the expected outcome represents welcome news for Canada and its quest to further develop internationalization of its higher education.
HEYUNGJIK LEE, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Department of Commerce, Hokkai School of Commerce, Hokkai-Gakuen