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Students oppose handouts

only for top foreign students

By Suvendrini Kakuchi for University World News:

Students and academics are calling for immediate reforms to a Japanese government relief plan for university students affected by the COVID-19 downturn because it discriminates against international students.

Japan’s cabinet last month approved a package of cash payments to around 430,000 university and college students struggling to pay tuition fees or living costs, amounting to up to JPY200,000 (US$1,800) for each student from low-income households and JPY100,000 for other students. They include foreign students at Japanese language schools.
But less than one-third of foreign students would be eligible. Explaining the decision to restrict the numbers, 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.”
“There are conditions in the aid package applied only to foreign students. We find that discriminatory and want the aid to apply equally to all students,” said Kazuki Kimura, member of FREE, a student advocacy group.
Student groups have campaigned for government support to help them pay tuition fees during May, pointing to the possibility of not being able to complete their studies for financial reasons.
The government’s aid budget for students, set at JPY53 billion, requires them to show a reduction of income of over 50% linked to losing part-time work and-or loss in family income during the emergency lockdown months. Japan’s national emergency declared on 16 April ended on 1 June. Higher education institutions will make the final decision on eligibility.
Foreign students are required to have high average grades – specifically a grade point of 2.30 or higher in the past academic year – and monthly attendance of more than 80% to be eligible for payouts. These conditions do not apply to Japanese students claiming assistance.
According to the ministry, foreign students achieving high academic marks account for the top 25% to 30% of almost 300,000 foreign students currently enrolled in Japan.
“We question the logic of these special conditions. It goes against the fact that all students applying have been affected financially by the coronavirus and need help,” Kazuki pointed out.
Petition to education ministry
More than 56,000 signatures supporting a petition for cash handouts to international students regardless of conditions was handed to the education ministry last week.
Critics such as lawyer Yasuko Morooka, executive director of Liaison for Foreigners, a grassroots human rights organisation, accused the ministry of having a policy that leaves out the majority of foreign students.
Kyoto City University of Arts, a private university, has reported that international students would not be shut out of applications for JPY200,000 in aid, saying it did not want to make a distinction between Japanese and foreign students seeking assistance. However, it has not made clear whether academic achievements will be taken into consideration.
It said around 61 of its 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students were foreign students.
According to surveys by the Japan Student Services Organization, which deals with international students, more than 60% of foreign students rely on part-time jobs in restaurants and shops to support their studies.
These sectors are among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced restaurants, bars and convenience stores to close operations.
“With many students working part-time to support themselves, it is hard for them to maintain high scores in their studies. The conditions set in the official relief package will impact these students,” said Yuriko Sato, associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, who researches international students in Japan.
Twitter statements from foreign students indicate that they are worried and upset at the discriminatory conditions.
“I face a hard time because I lost my part-time work in a restaurant that has closed now. We are calling for a change in the policy. I find it strange to have a wall between international and Japanese students,” tweeted a student called Darima Raman, writing in Japanese.
Academics noted that international students contributed to the globalisation of Japan’s higher education and have been an important source of income for private universities and language schools. They are employed by Japanese companies eager for global talent as the domestic population decreases.
Eriko Suzuki, a professor at Kokushikan University, Tokyo, and an expert on migrants, said setting different conditions for payment to foreign students exposes the weakness of Japan’s globalisation programme.
“The conditions aim at differentiating between students, with a preference for Japanese students. This concept illustrates that Japanese students take priority in education policy and also in universities that follow government guidelines,” she said.