Japan is back on track towards its target of 100,000 international students enrolled at its universities by the start of the 21st century.
The ministry of education said that a record high of 95,550 international students was reached by May 1 2002, an increase of 21.2 per cent on the previous year.
It was the second highest rate of increase in the past decade, surpassed only by the 23.1 per cent rise in 2001. Only three years ago, sceptics doubted that the government would reach its ambitious 1983 goal of 100,000 students from abroad, but if growth rates are sustained, the target could easily be met and surpassed next year.
One reason why such growth has been possible is the popularity among Asian students of short-study programmes (a year or less).
International enrolments play an increasingly important part in reform plans to make Japan's universities world-class institutions. Many universities and colleges are also accepting international students as a way to keep up enrolments in the face of declining numbers of Japanese high-school students applying for admission.
The single largest group of students studying in Japan (58,000) is from China, followed by South Korea (almost 16,000) and Taiwan (4,000). The only western country with a sizeable total is the US (1,200), but Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia all have more students than the US.