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Official figures hugely underestimate Japanese students studying abroad, says JAOS

As many as 170,000 Japanese students study abroad annually - more than three times what official statistics indicate - according to a new survey of agencies across the country.
December 7 2016
3 Min Read

A new measure of outbound mobility from Japan has revealed that as many as 170,000 Japanese students study abroad annually – more than three times what official statistics indicate.

A survey of 36 Japan Association of Overseas Studies agencies identified 64,988 students studied abroad through its members in 2014 – this on top of the official count of 55,350 students who went overseas in 2013/14, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

“It is very obvious that K-12 market has been dominated by agents”

MEXT data only tracks students going abroad for higher education studies, but JAOS figures show that the vast majority of its outbound students were in language or K-12 schools, and are therefore not counted in MEXT’s figures.

The JAOS study, supported by the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO), a division of MEXT, shows that when language, K-12 and higher education levels are factored in, the total number of Japanese students who study abroad far outweighs the official head count.

Even JASSO’s previous estimate that 81,219 Japanese students undertook short-term study abroad in 2014, including 29,097 outside of university programmes, underestimates the full cohort.

Taking into account the potential overlap in these three data sets, JAOS estimates there are some 170,000 Japanese students studying abroad each year at all levels of education.

Japanese students studying abroad - JAOS survey, MEXT and JASSO statistics

Looking at its own statistics on Japanese students studying abroad, combined with those from MEXT and JASSO, JAOS estimates 170,000 students study abroad each year. Image: JAOS.


That the figures are higher than official estimates is “not at all” surprising, according to Tatsu Hoshino, executive secretary of JAOS.  “As an industry expert and consultant with 30 years experience, I knew we had this kind of figures and trend,” he said.

“It is very obvious that the K-12 market has been dominated by agents because unlike language studies, parents and students have to depend on agent services for this sector,” he added.

In fact, four of JAOS’s 40 agency members did not participate in this year’s survey, which means the total number of students the association’s agencies send overseas annually is likely even higher than the survey suggests, he added.

“If you take that into account, I would estimate, our total number would be around 75,000.”

JAOS agencies are responsible for sending around 40% of all Japanese outbound students overseas, the organisation estimates.

Short-term language study abroad of three months or less accounted for just over half of the students JAOS agencies sent abroad (52%) in 2014, while longer-term language study accounted for a further 11%.

Just over a fifth of the total – 12,552 – were at high school level, and another 14% pursued volunteer, internship and non-language working holidays programmes.

The US, Australia, Canada, the UK and New Zealand accounted for 80% of all the students who studied abroad

English-speaking countries were the most popular study destinations, led by the US, which attracted just over a quarter of the students counted in the survey. Added together, the US, Australia, Canada, the UK and New Zealand accounted for 80% of all the students who studied abroad through JAOS agencies.

The Philippines was the sixth most popular study destination, attracting 6.7% of students. The country’s inexpensive offering and proximity to Japan contribute to the trend among Japanese students to choose it as a study destination.

Language students made up the vast majority of those that JAOS sent to the Philippines – around 95%, or 4,338.

Hoshino said agencies have reported the country has overtaken Taiwan and China, which have traditionally attracted a bigger proportion of Japanese students, but now each account for around 1% of the total.

In contrast, other historically popular destinations such as France, Singapore and Taiwan attracted relatively few language students.

Established in 1991, JAOS has more than 65 members, including agencies and partner organisations including the Australian Embassy Marketing Office and the British Council.

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