More students dropping out of university in Japan are citing issues linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results from a government survey conducted between April and August 2021.
The Ministry of Education survey released on 19 November found that some 701 students out of a total of 11,852 who dropped out of universities and colleges in Japan between April and August 2021 explicitly cited the pandemic as the cause of their decision.
This is more than double the number citing the pandemic as the reason for dropping out in 2020, when 385 students said this in a previous survey, although the number of dropouts in 2020 overall was 12,322, according to the ministry.
Additionally, students taking temporary leave from university studies reached more than 4,400 during the same period in 2021 – an increase of 1,741 over 2020.
The top reasons for their decision were financial constraints, inability to adapt to online student life and loss of interest in studying.
The government survey also included how universities and private colleges were responding to students who were having difficulties. The replies indicated that almost 95% of institutions had taken action to support students. University management had provided mental counselling and financial support such as scholarships to cash-strapped students with the goal of preventing them from dropping out.
Shigeru Yamamoto, a professor at Taisho University and an expert on university management, told University World News that government and university support had prevented a worse dropout rate from universities.
“My research shows that students are impacted negatively by coronavirus-related changes at their universities. Yet the numbers are not as shocking as expected. This is because the government and universities provided them with overall support,” he said.
The now well-documented loss of part-time work for students during the pandemic was the most cited reason for dropping out as it led to financial challenges for students, such as affecting their ability to pay tuition fees.
The survey has also highlighted that more students were grappling with mental issues. Students talked of dropping out because online classes left them feeling depressed and fighting apathy stemming from social isolation. First-year students have emerged as the most affected, with 87% of the total dropouts recorded between April and August saying it was “because of corona[virus]”.
As a result, more universities last year were prompted to provide counselling, usually online, to their students. Many students have said that they were deciding to drop out without knowing who to talk to about their decision, according to academics.
Government regulations led to rigorous restrictions on student movement within the country.
With the end of the emergency regulations last month, more universities are increasing the number of hybrid classes and prioritising activities to support campus-based student activities.
“Activating campus life so that students meet each other and their professors more often has become a prime goal for university management,” said Yamamoto.
But he noted another trend behind the dropout figures, as COVID-19 has left more students questioning the importance of higher education as employment shifts to more online work.
“Another growing reason for students leaving university can be traced to the fact that they are wondering how to meet future demands that cannot be met at university,” Yamamoto said, predicting this trend will accelerate in future.
The government has announced it will raise the number of foreigners allowed to enter Japan per day to 5,000 from 26 November. However, the number of people who want visas to study in Japan exceeds 140,000.
David Rossi, CEO of GoGo World, a company supporting international students in Japan, said he had been contacted by students around the world “who report stress and financial hardship because they cannot come to Japan”.
“Many of them have lost their scholarships as a result of Japan’s pandemic-related travel ban for foreigners,” he said.