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Japan outbound student figures remain steady in 2018

The number of Japanese students who chose to go abroad to study has held firm, according to new figures from the Japanese Association of Overseas Studies, but preferred destinations are changing as the country’s appetite for shorter periods of language study strengthens.

A high proportion of Japanese students continues to seek overseas education, according to JAOS. Photo: Su San Lee/UnsplashA high proportion of Japanese students continues to seek overseas education, according to JAOS. Photo: Su San Lee/Unsplash

Canada saw a spike in Japanese students, jumping by more than 1,150

The figures, compiled from a survey of 42 JAOS member organisations, found in 2018 around 200,000 Japanese students went abroad, close to estimates made in 2016.

“English proficiency is rapidly becoming as a critical criteria for management”

Going more in-depth, JAOS’ figures also provide a more accurate picture on the number of outbound Japanese students than those publicly available through the Japan Student Services Organization by including levels of study in addition to university.

“[Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology] statistics include only Japanese people who study at overseas institutions of higher education such as universities or graduate schools,” the report said.

“These omissions led JAOS to conduct a new yearly survey of its own to produce statistical data that includes junior high school students and working adults.”

While overall outbound numbers remained around the same level as previous years, there were noticeable shifts in destinations of choice as well as the desired level of study, particularly for top two countries the US and Australia, which both lost ground.

The US entered its third year of decline although marginally, losing just over 250 students, which JAOS said was possibly due to the current administration and immigration policy discouraging “professional and career-minded candidates… in fear of not landing a permit to remain to build their career”.

Australia, meanwhile, lost 650 students in 2018, as emerging markets, the Philippines and Malta improved their overall share of the market, jumping 20% and 30% respectively.

The Philippines also recorded the single most substantial increase with just under 1,500 additional Japanese students hosted in 2018 to reach over 8,200.

“In Japan, the trend of study-abroad from Japan has always been connected with – and reported by media – by the number of students studying in the US,” the report said.

“However, the decrease in the number of Japanese students going to America is not an accurate reflection of overall the study-abroad market in Japan these days. On the contrary, the overall number of outbound students is actually increasing in spite of a decreasing 18-year-old population in Japan.”

Canada similarly saw a spike in Japanese students, improving 9% or more than 1,150 students.

The study areas of most interest also saw minor shifts, as both short and long-term language studies continued to improve their market to 69% of all outbound students, while undergraduate degree and non-degree programs dropped.

While the Japanese government outlined policies to boost the nation’s English proficiency in preparation for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, JAOS attributed the increased uptake of language studies to changing business needs.

“Outbound students is actually increasing in spite of a decreasing 18-year-old population”

“English proficiency is rapidly becoming critical criteria for management-level positions in Japanese companies aiming to expand to the global market,” the report said.

“Stemming from this trend, we are seeing an increase in both university students seeking language training abroad and professionals looking to advance their career opportunities by enhancing their language ability both on their own and also as company-sponsored trainees.”

The report also noted the increase in long-term language studies, those undertaken for more than three months, was primarily pushed by university students on break or professionals on sabbatical.

Top performer the Philippines, which has rolled out government-backed initiatives to boost the country’s ELT offerings, similarly saw a substantial increase in the number of Japanese students choosing to go there to learn a language.

The Japanese government recently unveiled plans to attract more international students through changes to its post-study work opportunities, including work visa types and improved measures to help graduates find work.

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