More international students to be admitted to Japan’s national universities


The education ministry plans to allow an increase in the number of foreign students studying at national universities from the 2022 academic year, in an effort to increase the universities’ international competitiveness and ensure the stability of their finances, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will send to national universities a notice that will allow an increase in their enrollment limit by next summer. The liberalization of tuition fees for foreign students is likely to be discussed as well.

Under the current system, a university hoping to increase its quota needs to apply to the Council for University Establishment and School Corporation, an advisory organization to the education minister, which will conduct an inspection as to whether the increase is appropriate.

Since the 1990s, when the population of 18-year-olds started to decline, the ministry has maintained the stance that no increase was allowed in national universities’ enrollment except for special cases, saying it would place a burden on the finances of competing private universities.

Total enrollment at all national universities has hovered around 96,000 since the 2005 academic year.

There were 13,070 foreign students studying at national universities in the 2019 academic year, about 3% of the total number of students. The ratio was lower than that for private universities, which stands at 3.7%.

By issuing the notice by next summer, the ministry envisions that an increased number of international students will be admitted to national universities from the 2022 academic year.

However, if the number of foreign students increases without any limit, it is feared that there will be a shortage of teachers and classrooms. The ministry will check in advance the level of enrollment.

The ministry’s plan to increase the number of international students is aimed at attracting more talented foreign students to improve university’s research capabilities and garner international recognition.

Major international university rankings are decided based on various statistics, such as research paper citations, the ratio of international students and other factors related to the globalization of universities.

On the World University Ranking 2021, released by British education magazine publisher Times Higher Education in September, only two universities in Japan ranked in the top 200 — the University of Tokyo at 36th and Kyoto University at 54th.

The government has set a goal of having at least 10 universities in the top 100 by 2023, but this is considered difficult to achieve.

Increasing the number of international students will aid in the management of national universities, as the increased tuition revenues will strengthen their financial base.

The ministry is considering a plan to liberalize national universities’ tuition fees for international students. Currently, the standard annual tuition for national universities is set at ¥535,800 for both Japanese and foreign students. The fees can be increased by up to 20% at each university’s discretion.

Among foreign students studying at universities in Japan in the 2019 academic year, the largest segment — 41.2% — came from China. This was followed by Vietnam at 19.8%, Nepal at 8.2%, South Korea at 7% and Taiwan at 3.3%.