(Asahi: October 28, 2015, Evening edition – p. 1)
The number of Japanese students studying in the U.S. keeps dropping. The decline stands out compared to other overseas study destinations for Japanese students. The statistics for 2012, released this year, shows that China surpassed the U.S. as the top study abroad destination among Japanese students. A close look into the statistics highlights Japan’s struggle amid burgeoning Asia.
American universities gathered in Tokyo on September 12 to encourage prospective Japanese students to study in the U.S. At the “America Expo 2015” event, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy told the participants, “Studying in the U.S. will open the door for you to become a global citizen in the 21st century.” The Japanese and U.S. governments have set a goal of doubling the number of Japanese and American students studying in each other’s countries by 2020.
According to a document compiled by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the number of Japanese students studying abroad peaked in 2004 at 82,945 and has since been on the decline. In 2011, it fell to 57,501. By destination, the U.S. accommodated approximately 42,000 Japanese students, or about half of the total, in 2004. But in 2011, the number of Japanese students who studied in the U.S. dropped by half, accounting for about 35% of the total.
The latest data shows that the number of Japanese students who studied abroad grew to 60,138 in 2012, but those who studied in the U.S. did not increase. By contrast, China has been raising its profile as a popular destination of overseas studies among the Japanese youth since 2009. In 2012, it overtook the U.S. for the first time since the MEXT started compiling data in 2000.
“In the past, studying abroad meant going to the U.S. in most cases, but today there are more options available for young people. This is playing a big part [in the change in the rankings],” said a MEXT official. The number of Japanese universities offering exchange programs with China has been mushrooming rapidly, which is making Chinese schools more accessible to Japanese students. It is also said that Japanese employers are opting for students who studied in Asia rather than those who studied in Europe or the U.S.
One factor behind the decline in Japanese students studying overseas is said to be the inward-looking nature of the Japanese youth. But a college freshman who wants to study in an English-speaking country said, “I don’t think the number of students who are interested in different cultures and global environments is declining.”
Economic factors are also responsible for discouraging Japanese students from studying in the U.S. According to the MEXT document, the annual tuition averaged at 2.35 million yen for a private university and 1.71 million yen for a state college in 2011. American colleges are growing increasingly expensive. The amounts were almost double what it cost to study at Japanese private and public universities, respectively. The weaker yen is also weighing on those seeking to study at American schools.
A college junior at a Tokyo school who is considering studying in an English-speaking country says, “I want to broaden my view by studying overseas, but it is getting costly to study in the U.S. or U.K. I’m worried about the financial burden on my parents.”
Rise in Asian students studying in the U.S.
By global standards, the U.S. is not necessary losing its appeal as a study abroad destination.
According to a report issued by the Institute of International Education, the number of international students studying in undergraduate and graduate programs in the U.S. has been consistently increasing since the 1950s. From 2013 to 2014, there were about 886,000 international students in the U.S. Of them, Chinese students led the pack at about 274,000. The number jumped by 4.5 times over the decade. Japan topped the rankings of students by place of origin in the mid-1990s, but it slid to seventh. India came to second, followed by South Korea. Vietnam is rising in prominence too.
The growing affluence in Asia is making the region a new battleground for student recruitment. A person in charge of student recruitment at Loyola Marymount University said: “Not only American universities, but also British, Australian, Canadian and Singapore schools are racing to attract students from Asia, so the competition is getting intense.”
As more Asian students can afford to study in the U.S., Japanese students are losing their influence. The average scores earned by the Japanese in TOEFL examinations are lower than those of other Asian countries.