Free education is a policy goal promoted by both ruling and opposition parties. However, depending on the scope of education to be offered free, the extent of government financial involvement will change significantly as possible coverage by the government ranges from early learning to post graduate program.
If tuition is made free for students from early learning all the way through college, the government would pick up a tab of about 4.3 trillion yen (calculated by Nippon Ishin), or 5 trillion yen (calculated by Democratic Party). These amounts only represent the sum of education fees other than current compulsory education expenses.
The government will need to spend about 3 trillion yen to make the most expensive education, in colleges and universities, free for students.
Prime Minister Abe’s intention is to make the higher education free of charge. On Feb. 15, the Liberal Democratic Party launched a special team to look into a permanent funding source for the free education initiative. The team will consider issuing education bonds as one possibility.
The LDP is keen to push the free education initiative as a means to accelerate discussions on the Constitutional reform. The Nippon Ishin has included free education as an item for reform, and LDP senior officials believe it “will more likely obtain the opposition’s understanding.” During this Diet session, the LDP’s Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters will identify talking points and clarify its position on the free education initiative. The party intends to make progress in both free education financing and constitutional reform.
The opposition parties are also calling for free education, but their position on the initiative’s relation to Constitutional reform and the source of funding significantly differ from that of the LDP.
The Democratic Party, as well as the ruling-partner Komeito, believes constitutional reform is not necessary to make education free.
The DP plans to submit a bill to make early learning through university education free of charge. The necessary funding, which totals about 5 trillion yen, will come from an increase in the consumption tax to 10%, of which 1% (about 2.5 trillion yen) will be put toward education. Another 1 trillion yen will come from measures such as the abrogation of spousal deduction and reinforced taxation on financial products. (Abridged)