The number of foreign students is increasing in regions outside urban areas. But only few stay in the regions after completing their studies. That is unfortunate. Local universities are now starting projects to increase local employment through hiring international students to keep them in the region for the sake of helping to revitalize the regional economy.
Gunma University has been the center of an organization called “Global Work-Live Gumna,” run by 40 institutions such as universities, municipal governments, and corporations in the prefecture. It promotes local hiring of international students through internship programs and other career support. The university also offers classes to deepen understanding of multicultural symbiosis and to introduce local places of interest.
Prof. Megumi Yuki, the originator of the project, at the university, says, “We are entering an era in which we live with immigrants. International students will be a bridge between Japanese and immigrants.” Local corporations have high hopes for international students, who have perspectives different from those of the Japanese. On the other hand, regional understanding of different cultures is shallow, making the smooth inclusion of foreigners difficult. Through the project, Yuki wants to develop cross-cultural communication skills among Japanese students and send them to work at local corporations.
The movement to retain international students is spreading nationwide, and effective methods are sought to increase connections between students and corporations.
Shimane University offers a monetary incentive of 250,000 yen for students who work as interns at a corporation over a period of two years. Nagasaki University has a council for promoting communication between the students and corporations.
Currently, about 200,000 international students study in Japan. The number is increasing every year. The increase in Asian students is especially notable. However, only 13,000 changed their student visa status to working status in 2014. It is a rare case when a student gets hired at a local company. Seventy percent of the students who chose to work in Japan live in large metropolitan areas.
During an age of the continuing decline in regional economies, local universities are expected to play an increasingly important role in vitalization of regions. Projects to keep international students are an example of such efforts. (Abridged)