JAPAN is anxious that it is off-target in its plans to recruit 100,000 foreigners to study at colleges, universities and graduate schools by the year 2000.
Overseas student numbers rose fivefold from under 10,000 in 1985 to over 50,000 in 1995. But in May last year there were 726 fewer than on the same date in 1995.
Expanding the number of foreign students is an important plank of Japan's internationalisation programme. The education ministry set the 100,000 target in 1985.
Last year's decline means that only 53,000 foreign students are enrolled at Japanese colleges, universities and graduate schools, 10,000 below target.
The decline is attributed to the high cost of studying and living and the difficulties of finding suitable accommodation in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, where most of the country's institutions of higher education are located.
In response, the education ministry has commissioned a think tank of academics and business leaders to look at ways of making it easier for foreign students to report this summer.
The team will particularly investigate ways of attracting more students from Europe and North America. At present more than 80 per cent are from China, South Korea and East Asian countries.
The education ministry has already allocated more cash for the academic year beginning in April to support foreign students. About Pounds 300 million will be spent on grants, bursaries and new dormitories.
But university administrators say that the Japanese language is another barrier to study.
Foreign students have to spend a year studying Japanese before sitting university entrance exams. The introduction of short-term certificated courses conducted in English is being considered.
Overseas students would then be able to spend one or two years studying at Japanese universities without having the bother or expense of the language programme.