Shake Up

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Shake Up


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


After the March 2011 disaster, Japan and its universities are reevaluating and increasing their pursuit of international students

BOUNTIFUL NATURE! DIVINE FOODS! History-rich Japan!" proclaims the colorful recruiting brochure from Japan Student Services Organization (JASSQ), invoking touchstones of the country's history ,and culture, from samurais to sushi and manga to Mount Fuji, to convince students from other countries to study in the Land of the Rising Sun. It is a nation hungry for international students, both to fill seats that may be left vacant by the long, steep decline in its college-age population and to bolster the stature and competitiveness of its universities, only two of which made the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2012-13 (University of Tokyo was No. 27 and Kyoto University No. 54). Back in 2008 then-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda took many administrators by surprise when he announced a goal of attracting 300,000 international students by 2020, two a half times the current level. He was following in the footsteps of a predecessor who in 1983 pledged to raise international enrollments from 10,000 to 100,000 by the tum of the century (they succeeded, but it took until 2003).

The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, and the ensuing meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant dealt a setback to the drive to attract more international students. Amid panic and confusion over the threat posed by the radiation leaks, tens of thousands of students were among the halfmillion foreigners who fled Japan in the days after the disasters struck. Although buildings in Tokyo, 230 miles from the epicenter, shook "Eke a trampoline" during the earthquake, as U.S. student Christopher Huntingdon put it, and the disaster disrupted power and transportation widely for weeks, the earthquake left no physical mark on most of Japan and the damage at the nuclear plant was finally brought under control.

Most Students Returned to Class Two Months After the Disaster

The government bought plane tickets for international students to come back and by May 2011, two months into the new academic year, 86 percent were back in their classes, according to Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).

Among them was Camille Armas, 20, of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, in southern Japan, far from the disaster zone. She onry left to allay the concerns of her family in the Philippines, and she was back in two weeks "despite radiation scares." APU is among Japan's most international universities, with 2,500 of its 5,400 students and half the faculty from other countries. Armas was lured by a full-tuition scholarship, as well as the opportunity to take almost all her classes in English. Majoring in Asia Pacific studies with a concentration on sustainable development, Armas said, "Through the English-based curriculum, I am able to attain my degree without worrying about understanding advanced Japanese." Japan, she says, "is a great place to be for an international student," rich in culture, safe, and with many conveniences and even jobs available for international students, who are allowed to work up to 28 hours a week. Japanese universities charge the same tuition to domestic and international students and the government provides scholarships for 14,000 students who come to Japan to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Growing Numbers of Programs in English Attract Students

Offering more programs and degrees in English is one of the principal strategies the government has been encouraging in the drive toward the 300,000 goal. But the vast majority of Japan's international studentsaim ost 94 percent- come from non-English speaking countries in Asia. China and South Korea alone accounted for three quarters of the 138,075 international students the ministry of education tallied in its May 1, 2011, census. …

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