Students protest as Japanese universities mull tuition fee hikes

As policymakers reduce funding, institutions seen as having little choice but to start charging students more

June 8, 2024
Visitors look out at the view while riding up an escalator at the Shibuya Sky observation deck in Tokyo to illustrate Students protest as Japanese universities mull tuition fee hikes
Source: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg / Getty Images

Tuition fee hikes at Japanese universities are “inevitable”, academics said, as the University of Tokyo considered increasing its prices for the first time in two decades.

Students at the leading university held protests on campus in response to proposals to raise fees by about 18 per cent, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

Currently, students pay ¥535,800 (£2,696) per year, but the university is considering increasing this fee by ¥100,000.

Students reportedly argued that increasing fees at the university could set a precedent for other institutions – a concern that academics said was justified.

“As the top university in Japan, the University of Tokyo should be recognised as a price leader that influences many other national and local public universities,” said Akiyoshi Yonezawa, professor and vice-director of the International Strategy Office at Tohoku University.

Currently, tuition fees for national universities in Japan are set by the Education Ministry, and the figure has remained the same since 2004. Since 2019, institutions have been permitted to increase fees to a maximum of 20 per cent above this level, but only a few have done so.

Since the announcement by the University of Tokyo, two others – Hiroshima University and Kumamoto University – have suggested that they could raise fees from next year onwards.

Declining long-term government investment is driving these decisions, according to scholars, with funding falling by 1 per cent annually since 2004.

“The national university corporations are unable to maintain normal and healthy operation solely on the basis of the government funding,” said Futao Huang, a professor in Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Higher Education.

Professor Yonezawa believed the increase would not be felt too strongly by students, in part because of the university’s current demographics – with the majority of students coming from “upper-middle income” families – and financial support schemes for those from low-income backgrounds.

Masataka Murasawa, another professor in the Hiroshima institute, predicted that the shift would see more students from “affluent backgrounds” attending the university over poorer students, but thought student numbers were unlikely to decline overall. However, he added, other universities that “do not have the same prestige” could struggle to recruit students if fees are increased.

“The regional national universities that have now announced that they will consider raising fees lack an academic understanding of the nature of higher education in Japan and do not seem to have envisaged the risks,” he said.

Earlier this year, policymakers lifted the cap on the amount universities are allowed to charge international students, but no universities have increased these fees yet.

“The government is attempting to provide financial support for universities apart from traditional subsidies with the goal of increasing their international competitiveness, but such policies to date do not appear to have met with much success,” said Takakazu Yamagishi, professor of political science at Nanzan University.

This included a ¥10 trillion excellence fund, launched in 2022, which ended its first year recording a ¥60 million deficit.

Professor Yonezawa added that there was a lack of “overall design and consistency” when it comes to policies on “cost sharing” in Japanese higher education. Although reforms are being made, many are “small, complex and inconsistent”, he said.

“I think it is a good opportunity to discuss the basic principle of who pays for what purpose in Japan’s higher education funding for a sustainable future,” he said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Related universities