Japan's worst recession for 50 years has been blamed for the rising number of students withdrawing from university courses. Financial hardships are reckoned to have forced 3,000 students to quit higher education in the past 18 months.
The biggest number of withdrawals are from Japan's 350 or so private universities, which generally charge much higher tuition fees than the state-run national universities. Several leading private universities have reported a doubling of dropouts in the past two years.
Private and other universities are also reporting a noticeable rise in requests for tuition fee deferrals. "Families affected by the recession can no longer afford the high cost of tuition at a Japanese university," said Mamoru Ota, a student counsellor.
The problem is greatest in Tokyo, where a quarter of universities are located. "The cost of living in Tokyo is high," said Mamoru Ota, "and students living away from home are finding it difficult to pay their bills."
Other students say the "leisure land" image of Japanese universities is encouraging them to quit their studies. "I do not think it is appropriate to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of university while my family struggles to make ends meet," said 19-year-old Satoshi Nakamura, who recently left university in Osaka to work in a trading company.
With fewer firms offering lifetime employment, other students are also reassessing their costly four-year degree courses. Several graduate employment agencies reckon that companies will recruit 15 per cent fewer graduates next year and that their long-term employment prospects are equally dismal.
Students with general education degrees are finding it particularly difficult to find jobs. One campus newspaper said there had been a striking rise in the number of students switching from general education courses to vocational courses.