Students at Korea University in Tokyo’s Kodaira city urged the government on Sept. 7 to ensure equal access to its COVID-19 financial support program, saying they have always been excluded from similar measures.
The students made the appeal at a meeting in the capital against the government’s decision to exclude Korea University students from the program.
Opposition lawmakers invited four students from Korea University and their supporters to the meeting.
“Some students quit (school) or are considering doing so as they were forced to work less in their part-time jobs amid the pandemic,” said a 21-year-old senior female student at the university who attended the meeting.
“I can’t help thinking that they wouldn’t have suffered like that if they had received the cash handouts. I call for equal treatment.”
In fiscal 2020, the government provided 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen ($900 to $1,810) in emergency financial aid to students whose incomes from part-time jobs have plunged due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was aimed at helping them continue studying at school.
Some 430,000 students received the cash handouts, according to the education ministry.
But the government barred students at Korea University and other schools that it does not recognize as “higher education” institutions from accessing the cash handouts.
The financial support program, which ended in March, mainly targeted students at universities, graduate schools, junior colleges, technical colleges, Japanese language institutions and foreign universities’ schools in Japan.
In February, four special rapporteurs appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council issued a joint statement expressing concerns that the financial support program discriminates against Korea University students.
“For minority students, this further jeopardizes their access to an education that facilitates the promotion of their national, ethnic, cultural and linguistic identities,” the statement reads.
The government denied that the exclusion of Korea University students from the program constituted discrimination based on race, ethnicity or nationality, in a response it issued in April.
Opposition lawmakers on Sept. 7 asked government officials what measures they intend to take in response to the joint statement and why they barred Korea University students from the program.
“The statement represents the opinion of the special rapporteurs, not the opinion of the United Nations,” a Foreign Ministry official said. “It is not legally binding, either.”
An education ministry official also repeated the government’s stance that the exclusion of Korea University students from the program does not constitute discrimination.
Ryuta Itagaki, a professor of modern Korean history at Doshisha University, participated in the meeting online.
He said it was a predetermined decision to bar Korea University students from the program, reflecting a series of government attacks on Korean schools and exclusions of them from financial support programs in the past.