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Japan: foreign HE enrolments recover after three years of decline

The number of foreign students studying in Japan increased by 9.5% from 168,145 to 184,155 between 2013 and 2014 as the country begins to recover from the impact of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, new statistics from the Japan Student Services Organisation show.

Waseda University, Tokyo. Photo: Guilhem Vellut.

Higher education enrolments were up from 135,519 in 2013 to 138,185 in 2014 after three years of decline

Vocational courses and language programmes were the biggest growers thanks to increasing popularity of Japanese pop culture and demand for skills in the region, stakeholders say.

“The effects of the appreciation of the yen since 2012, which will have had a considerable impact, and of the 2011 earthquake, are starting to weaken,” Haruko Yamamoto, president of Kai Japanese Language School in Tokyo, told The PIE News.

“The effects of the appreciation of the yen since 2012, which will have had a considerable impact, and of the 2011 earthquake, are starting to weaken”

She also suggested that Japan’s cultural influence through anime and music is bringing more students in.

The annual survey shows that the majority of students last year – 138,185 – were enrolled in higher education in May 2014 (with the academic year typically beginning in March or April), up from 135,519 in 2013 after three years of decline.

Vocational schools accounted for a large proportion of the increase in HE, with enrolments up 28.9% to 29,227, balancing a 2.3% decline in undergraduate numbers, alongside a 1% rise in graduate school enrolments.

But, the greatest increase was seen in Japanese language institutions, where enrolments increased by more than a third to 44,970.

There was also a 7.9% increase in the number of short-term foreign students – those studying in Japan for a year or less and not for a degree – to 9,325.

Incoming student numbers from Vietnam and Nepal, up 91% and 79.9% to 26,439 and 10,448 respectively, were responsible for significant growth in all sectors.

Takafumi Ota, director of the information services division in JASSO’s student exchange department, said the recent proliferation of education agencies in these countries, as well as Japan’s increased marketing push in South and Southeast Asia helped drive growth.

It is also likely that students in both countries are aiming to increase their chances of employability, said Tsukui Takeyuki in Waseda University’s international office.

“In Vietnam, the number of students interested in studying abroad in any country is increasing rapidly as personal earnings increase with economic growth and enthusiasm for education grows,” he told The PIE News.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 12.39.39

JASSO statistics charting the enrolments since 1983. Higher education growth can be seen in the line second to the top.

This is coupled with an increasing number of Japanese companies expanding into Vietnam, creating future job opportunities, he explained.


A national push to make institutions more outward looking is also starting to pay off, according to Takeyuki.

“Universities are ‘opening up’ to the world at the moment, so to speak, and major universities have made driving globalisation a central pillar of reform,” he said, adding, “we are gradually starting to see an impact thanks to the funds that Japan is putting into internationalisation.”

In terms of numbers, China remains Japan’s biggest source market for students, with 94,399 Chinese students enrolled in 2014, followed by Vietnam, with 26,439, and South Korea, with 15,777.

However, incoming student numbers from both China and Korea have declined in the last year, down 3.6% and 8.7% respectively mostly due to high political tensions between the two countries and Japan.

Ota added that Japan may still be feeling the impact of the earthquake, as well as students’ ambivalence about nuclear power generation.

“Major universities have made driving globalisation a central pillar of reform”

Meanwhile, Burma, a smaller source market for Japan, also saw a 20.1% rise in students, to 1,935, and Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia all saw increases of more than 10%.

Despite the upturn in numbers, there are still doubts as to whether Japan will be able to meet Prime Minister Abe’s ambitious goal of having 300,000 overseas students in the country by 2020.

National measures have been put in place aiming to increase inbound movement including the Top Global Universities initiative, which last year allocated ¥7.7bn (US$72m) in funding to boost globalisation efforts at 37 universities.

“The policy was just started in last autumn (the measures of the 10 year budget plan), and I believe that the effect has not been yet given,” said Ota.

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