By Shingo Tamari
The age of studying abroad has begun. More students are challenging themselves to gain overseas experiences, and some university departments are mandating all of their undergraduates study abroad. Universities, fighting for survival, are driving educational internationalization and public and private institutions are supporting the trend. Although the high cost of tuition is a deterrent, there are a variety of scholarships offered to prospective students to take advantage of.
Studying abroad mandated for all undergraduates
An increasing number of academic departments and disciplines are making overseas study compulsory, as competition among universities is intensifying with some 40% of private universities failing to meet their recruiting targets amidst a decreasing student population due to the shrinking birthrate. Mandating overseas study enables institutions to differentiate themselves by marketing an image of providing globalized education programs.
This trend has been bolstered by an initiative by the government to designate and fund Super Global Universities (SGU) that nurture students with a global mindset.
Last year, Kindai University’s Faculty of International Studies started a program where all of its freshmen go abroad to countries like the U.S. to hone their English skills through intensive language courses offered by local universities. Some 530 students have returned from these courses and have shown remarkable improvement in English proficiency exams.
“Linguistically, the freshmen have been hugely successful coming back from their overseas trips,” says Naoya Fujita, Professor and Deputy Dean in charge of the program. “Many of them are more independent and gained the confidence to voice their opinions. Some are looking to go back for a second time.”
This year, Teikyo University’s Faculty of Language Studies made the decision to start mandating all of its freshmen study overseas. It is laying the groundwork to enroll around 300 of its students in partnering academic institutions and language schools abroad next fall.
The150 or so students to enroll in Musashino University’s Faculty of Global Studies next spring are scheduled to go to the U.S. during their sophomore year. While it is compulsory for students of Rikkyo University’s College of Intercultural Communication to study overseas, the university is planning to offer the same opportunities for its entire student body by 2024.
Sharp increase in short-term study programs
Among the types of available study abroad programs, such as exchange, leave of absence, and short-term, the short-term option is most popular. While students are not linguistically advanced enough to earn credits at their destination universities, the program enables them to reside overseas for a few months to improve their language skills. According to a survey conducted by the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), the number of students who have studied overseas have more than doubled during the five years since 2015, with 60% of the students spending less than one month abroad.
“There will be a further increase,” predicts Masanori Fujii, chief of the university and corporate members’ business unit at Benesse Corporation. “The number of university students studying abroad has quite literally exploded against a social backdrop that values globalization. Although most only go for a short period, more students are seeking a longer stay.”
Since Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) has been certified as a SGU, there has been a sharp rise in students who wish to study overseas. Last fiscal year, 35% of the student population received an overseas education, hoping to achieve what it calls a “200% study abroad rate,” where every student goes abroad at least twice.
“The students come back stronger, not only linguistically, but also as confident independent individuals,” asserts TUFS Vice President Kayoko Hayashi. “Many of them find meaning in education during their time abroad. I very much encourage all students to go.”
Leveraging grant-type scholarship programs
The biggest obstacle in studying abroad is the high cost. It is hard to come up with two to four million yen per year to send a student to the U.S. or Europe. While most students understand that it is an investment towards their future selves, it is a daunting sum of money. Half of the students who do not wish to study abroad cite the lack of financial resources as their reason, according to research by Benesse.
Hitotsubashi University abandoned its plan to adopt a short-term overseas study program designed to send all of its freshmen abroad by next fiscal year, due to the high financial burden it will place on its students. “We are working to send as many students as possible by increasing aid from our university,” says one public relations source.
Scholarships are a great way to encourage students with financial concerns make the leap. Many universities, public institutions, and local governments offer them. While some are mere student loans that need to be returned, others are grants that do not need to be reimbursed.
JASSO, known for providing grant-type scholarships, offers 60,000 to 100,000 yen per month for Japanese exchange students attending partnering overseas universities. Typically, universities make bulk applications to organizations offering scholarships on behalf of their students based on their academic performance records. Students with good grades in their language classes seem to have better luck in recieving aid.
Students who want to study overseas but do not have stellar grades, linguistic or otherwise, may want to try applying to a public-private collaborative project called Tobitate! Ryugaku Japan, which roughly translates to Rise! Study Abroad Japan.
This project is funded by donations made by companies that support the government’s goal of doubling the number of students studying abroad by 2020. Students’ passion, curiosity, and originality are evaluated instead of their grades. Applicants do not even have to attend schools abroad.
Corporations contribute to the screening and orientation processes. There are a variety of tracks students can choose from, such as humanities and sciences. The students design their own growth plan and apply through their universities. Once accepted, they are granted 120,000 to 160,000 yen per month.
“The students are evaluated on their potential,” says Tomoko Nishikawa, the PR team’s leader. “We look at the clarity of their objectives to study abroad and evaluate their plans to achieve them. I want to encourage them to become leaders of our nation.”
Other organizations offer grant-type aid, such as universities, municipalities, companies, foundations, and foreign governments. JASSO’s website offers a wealth of information for aspiring students. Students may find career options that they hadn’t yet considered through the process of looking for support options.