In the constitutional revision proposals that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced abruptly in his capacity as the president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he indicated support for free higher education. However, the LDP had once criticized the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration’s policy on free high school education as an “unprincipled pork-barrel policy for the sake of electoral gains.” This passage remains on the LDP’s official website even today, which raises questions about consistency.
Article 26 of the Constitution provides for free compulsory education (elementary and middle school). In his proposal, Abe hinted at making higher education also free. It can be said that this was meant to co-opt the Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party], which advocates free higher education in its constitutional revision proposals.
Yet, the LDP had adopted a completely different position on education up until now.
When the DPJ administration implemented a policy of free public high school education in 2010, it was criticized by the LDP for “making the children of future generations pay” and for possibly “bringing about Japan’s fiscal bankruptcy.”
The LDP website still carries this policy position today. However, after the party returned to power in 2014, it has conceded to a position of calling for certain income-based conditions for free high school education.
This time, this issue has been upgraded to a subject for constitutional revision but Abe did not clarify the reason in his video message. He did not also make any reference to consistency with the LDP’s position.
Tokyo Metropolitan University Prof. Sota Kimura, a constitutional scholar, pointed out that free education “is possible even without amending the Constitution. Going into constitutional revision will actually take more time, making it hard to adapt to social changes. It would be more rational to first consider legislative measures, such as by collaborating with Ishin’s proposed free education bill.”
Kimura asserted, “Rather than holding an unnecessary referendum [to approve the constitutional revisions], the money might as well be spent for free education.”
Political analyst Atsuo Ito expressed exasperation by saying, “The LDP has not explained the position it took when it was in the opposition. This is plain opportunism.” (Abridged)