Weakening yen costing Japanese students chance to study abroad

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A junior at the Open University of Japan loves American movies and culture, and dreams of finding a job in the United States. 

The 22-year-old woman from Hiroshima Prefecture was working hard at a part-time job so she could enroll in a U.S. college in her third year at the university.

However, the weak yen has made it unrealistic for her to study outside Japan, even with financial assistance from her parents.

“I regret that my plan to study outside Japan is beyond my financial reach, although I knew it would be expensive from the beginning,” she said. “Taking courses overseas is no longer possible for ordinary people.”

The woman is seeking to earn more money in a quest to enter a graduate school overseas at some point.

“I just wish the yen would rise a little,” she lamented.

The record-breaking weak yen is dramatically raising the costs for Japanese students to study outside their homeland.

Concerns are increasing that more students may drop their plans to go abroad to study due to financial reasons, undermining the international competitiveness of the major Asian power.

COSTLY LUNCH, COMMUTING FEES

A 29-year-old woman who is enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Sussex in Britain, who dreams of securing a job to protect women’s rights, is one of many international students struggling with the weak yen.

When she was preparing to leave Japan for academic studies in 2022, one pound was equivalent to 150 yen or so at one point. Given the exchange rate, she expected her tuition fees would total 2.8 million yen.

But the Japanese currency depreciation raised her schooling expenses by 500,000 yen. Seeing the value of one pound occasionally top 200 yen, the woman described the recent currency swing as “rather scary.”

As having a lunch at the university’s cafeteria costs 7.5 pounds, or 1,500 yen at the current exchange rate, she brings her own meals to the campus from home.

Although she lives an hour from the university by train to save on rent, the commuting cost reaches as high as 12 pounds, or 2,400 yen, each way.

She avoids rush hours to go to school because the fare is half the price during less crowded times.

“As Japan is an island nation, people refraining from traveling overseas can cause them to forget international standard ideas and notions,” she said. “If the yen remains so weak on a continual basis, only wealthier individuals might be able to go abroad. This could make it difficult for Japan to develop further as a nation.”

SUPPORT FROM PRIVATE, PUBLIC SECTORS

Operators of colleges and high schools are under growing pressure to respond to the issue.

Leading all colleges in Japan in the number of students sent to partner universities abroad, Kwansei Gakuin University in Hyogo Prefecture is plagued by rising costs for international education programs.

A five-month course at the University of Oxford in Britain carries a price tag of 5.18 million yen, 1.95 million yen higher than in fiscal 2019. Short-term programs lasting three to four weeks are 70 percent pricier than that fiscal year on average, too.

Kwansei Gakuin University said it has received complaints from students. One stated, “I applied for a program but decided not to take it due to financial difficulties,” while another said, “I initially wanted to study in Northern Europe but I am now considering going to an Asian country instead.”

Kwansei Gakuin has decided on a new framework to provide a total of 170 million yen in aid. No fewer than 1,900 students are anticipated to be eligible for the assistance. 

Situated in Tokyo, Salesian International Junior and Senior High School embraces specialized educational programs for its students to study abroad for three months to one year. The courses have become dramatically unaffordable as well.

Though the school operator dispatches students to overseas destinations via an external agent for now, it is in discussions with sister schools in various countries to place students directly in academies outside Japan. The aim is to rein in expenditures.

The government is alike swinging into action.

The education ministry announced on May 28 that the grant aid payment under a dedicated international scholarship program run by the government and the private sector will be lifted by up to 100,000 yen. Applicants will be exempted from repayment obligations.

Released in April last year, the second proposal of the state’s Council for the Creation of Future Education, chaired by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, specified a goal of raising the annual number of students studying overseas to 500,000 by 2033.

This increase in the grant aid payment came after no radical supportive countermeasures were included in the budget for this fiscal year in response to the weakened yen and rise in commodity prices.

The quota in the Japan Student Services Organization’s scholarship program for international students was simply expanded at the time as part of efforts to beef up assistance for those studying at foreign schools over the mid- to long term for obtaining diplomas and other objectives.

“We will be going all out to prevent students from changing or dropping plans to go out of Japan for educational purposes,” said a government insider.

MORE AID FROM BUSINESS COMMUNITY

According to Ryugaku Journal Inc., part-time jobs and working holiday programs are being increasingly integrated into educational tours in Australia.

Many individuals are exploring paid internship opportunities in Canada, with the nation’s relatively affordable cost of living in mind. 

Ryugaku Journal is an agent catering to students who want to study abroad and publishes a special magazine for them.

“What is important is clearly defining the purpose of traveling overseas,” said Yukari Kato, editor-in-chief of Ryugaku Journal. “Any goals can be accomplished through proper approaches to allocate time and money effectively.”

For example, Kato noted a six-month course will be enough for most of those wanting to attend language schools to become fluent in English.

Sachihiko Kondo, a sociology professor at Osaka University and chairman of the Japan Association for International Student Education, pointed out that short-term inter-university student exchange programs are unlikely to be hugely affected by currency fluctuations.

But he expressed a strong sense of alarm, referring to the possibility that those who study at universities and colleges outside Japan for academic degrees could be “greatly influenced.”

International students seeking formal diplomas are supposed to deepen their knowledge of their host countries and build personal connections with people there over a prolonged period.

“More individuals abandoning plans to enter schools overseas can result in a smaller number of globally competitive personnel, eroding Japan’s international competitiveness,” Kondo said.

Kondo argued the government should not only step up its scholarship initiatives and other support measures but also offer information for students to take account of a much wider range of schooling options.

Apart from that, Kondo called for assistance from business circles.

“We expect private companies marked by strong financial results amid the weakened yen to offer scholarships and other forms of support,” he said.

(This article was written by correspondent Mizuho Morioka, Kyota Tanaka and Chika Yamamoto.)


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