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Doors of Japan’s colleges mostly shut for foreign residents’ children

  • August 26, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 12:00 p.m.
  • English Press

EUGENE LANG, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Japan’s efforts to attract overseas talent have not translated into better access to higher education for children of foreign nationals, a Nikkei survey of universities shows.


Of the 82 national universities surveyed, only one had an admission process for foreign-born Japan-educated students that was separate from the general entrance exam that would be difficult for one without native fluency and the restricted programs for international students.


“Answering the questions on the entrance exam requires advanced Japanese language skills, not just conversational-level,” said Kazuki Murakami, an associate professor in the department of global diversity studies at Toyo University.


The sole outlier was Utsunomiya University in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, which began selecting foreign residents based on essays and interviews as of the 2016 school year.


These barriers make it harder for people of diverse backgrounds to succeed, critics say, risk putting Japan at a disadvantage in a rapidly globalizing world.


“National policy is oriented toward talent from overseas, and there’s little awareness of foreign nationals in the country,” said Yasuko Takezawa, a professor at Kyoto University and expert on diversity. “The perspectives of young people raised in multicultural environments will bring about new ideas at universities and companies.”


While 75 of the schools accept international students, the vast majority require enrollees to have either graduated from high school in their home countries or be qualified to attend universities there. Furthermore, 61 schools do not allow foreign students who graduated from Japanese high schools to sit for their entrance exams.


The other 14 said they allow Japanese-educated foreign nationals to apply only under certain conditions, such as studying in Japan for three years or less.


But children of foreign residents “usually come to Japan by age 15 or earlier and have gone to Japanese schools since middle school,” said a teacher at an Osaka Prefecture high school. “It’s hard for them to go the exchange student route.”


Utsunomiya University was the only national university surveyed with an admissions route for Japan-educated foreign nationals. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

The Migrant Integration Policy index, a gauge of immigration policy covering 52 countries around the world, underscores the dearth of educational opportunities for non-Japanese residents. The project gave Japan a score of 33 in education, below the average of 42 and far behind countries such as Australia. Finland, which placed second in education, offers Finnish language education programs for young immigrants.


A growing number of foreign residents are raising children in Japan as the government has opened its doors to more workers, but many attend international schools where Japanese-language education can be lacking.


A survey by the education ministry found that about 51,000 young students needed Japanese language instruction in 2018, a 50% rise from a decade earlier, and the tally is expected to keep growing.

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