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‘Study abroad’

promoted as part of

bid for global role

By Suvendrini Kakuchi for University World News:

Fostering international experiences through ‘study abroad’ is a core goal of the Japanese government’s higher education globalisation strategy and part of its longer-term aim of stepping up its role in the global arena by fostering a more international outlook in young people.

The Council for the Creation of Future Education, chaired by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, set a new target in April to achieve 500,000 Japanese studying abroad by 2033. This comprises 150,000 students seeking degrees, 230,000 on shorter programmes, and 110,000 high-school students on overseas study tours.

“The growth and success of young people, who are the bearers of the future, through studying abroad is the key to transforming society,” Kishida told the council in April.

Experts say the renewed push to expand the number of Japanese students studying abroad is linked to the Kishida government’s desire for Japan to play a more active international role. They point to major recent initiatives, such as Japan’s hosting of the G-7 summit in Hiroshima last month and the government’s pursuing closer ties with Western Allies in support of Ukraine in its battle against the Russian invasion.

“The government is keenly aware of the pressing need to strengthen international experience among Japan’s younger human resources to support the nation’s active diplomacy and economic globalisation,” said Tatsuhiko Hoshino, spokesperson for Japan Association of Overseas Studies (JAOS) affiliated to the Ministry of Education.

The government is providing new incentives, such as grant-type study abroad scholarships for successful Japanese applicants and expanding online international exchanges by distributing information terminals to each junior high school and high school, the generation seen as playing a critical role in Japan’s future.

According to surveys conducted by, a website run by Sakae Institute for Study Abroad that follows university student news, Japanese students referred to concerns such as cost, personal security – including fear of guns and crime in the United States, and the language barrier as some of the obstacles to study abroad. They also cited being able to study online foreign university courses as another reason to stay in Japan.

Calendar differences need to be bridged

The government will also promote year-round and autumn recruitment by Japanese companies to facilitate applications from graduate returnees from abroad. This tackles a long-simmering issue in Japan as attempts made in the past have failed to align the Japanese academic year which ends in March, with the West where the academic year ends in July, so students returning from abroad graduate later compared to students in Japan.

Job hunting for students on four-year degree programmes typically begins in their third year – a major obstacle for studying abroad. “Not being able to compete in the job market is cited by Japanese students if they study abroad,” said Hiroshi Ota, professor and director of the Global Education Programme at Hitotsubashi University, a leading national university in Tokyo.

Ota said short-term study abroad programmes lasting between one week to three months are most popular among Japanese students. “Apart from employment concerns, their preference illustrates the attraction of lower expenditure and being able to manage their busy (study) schedules,” he explained.

At high school level, study abroad is hampered by the need to take competitive Japanese university entrance exams when they return home, and the fear of falling behind their stay-at-home peers in subjects such as Japanese, mathematics and science while abroad, which could disadvantage their university prospects.

Ministry of Education statistics indicate overseas exchange visits organised by Japanese universities reached a high of almost 49,000 visits this year. Exchange programmes with foreign universities include summer or autumn study tours or internships aimed at strengthening cultural and language knowledge. Students are accompanied by their professors or register individually.

Popular destinations

Traditionally, the most popular foreign study destinations for Japanese students are the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, linked to English language study. But 2021 statistics compiled by the Ministry of Education also indicated study visits to Asian countries have increased during the past two years. The most visited countries in Asia were China, Taiwan, and South Korea.

“Most Japanese students cannot afford the high tuition fees that now reach almost US$50,000 annually to obtain a degree at American universities. Cheaper Asian destinations for non-degree study are growing attractive for Japanese students, avoiding high costs for studying in English-speaking countries,” said Ota.

Data from the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) showed that in 2019, before the pandemic disrupted foreign travel, a total of 107, 346 students studied abroad with the majority –over 40,000 – on programmes lasting less than on month. Some 1,401 were enrolled for long-term studies of over a year.

JASSO indicated 45% of this number paid tuition fees themselves, and the majority were female. studying in the humanities.

Focus on job prospects

Ota also expressed disappointment that ‘peculiar’ hiring practices in Japan thwart Japanese students’ aspirations to study abroad. “Studying abroad is an effective way for students to develop careers based on their interests. Job search should not come first,” he said.

Japanese university graduates are easily able to secure jobs – graduate employment is currently almost 100% – which also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm for foreign degrees, said Akira Kobayashi, associate professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University.

He noted, however, the picture is fast changing. A survey conducted in 2019 by the Institute for International Business Communication points out that English language has become critical for employment, with 40% of Japanese companies requiring English skills.

He also pointed to deep-rooted cultural constraints that work against foreign study. “Japanese education, including higher education, continues to be steeped in meeting domestic needs with students and teachers lacking foreign experience or English language skills,” he explained, adding that against this backdrop, a shift towards more international mobility would take time.