THE Japanese government has produced an emergency package to help thousands of foreign students who are in financial difficulties because of the East Asian currency crisis.
About 30 per cent of Japan's 51,000 foreign students are from South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the other countries affected by the currency turmoil.
Self-supporting foreign students with financial difficulties have already been given about Pounds 250 each. Financial support has also gone to some of the East Asian governments and organisations that regularly send students to Japanese universities.
Earlier this year Pounds 2.6 million was given to the government of Malaysia to help pay for the tuition and other expenses of Malaysian students studying in Japan.
Within Japan the ministry of education has been allocated funds to finance additional scholarships for other Asian students affected by the currency problems.
About 6,000 students are expected to benefit from scholarships that will provide grants of about Pounds 250 a month for undergraduates and Pounds 360 a month for graduate students.
Individual universities have also introduced measures to help foreign students affected by the crisis. Chuo University is offering its foreign students interest-free loans, while Tokyo Keizai University has introduced 50 per cent tuition exemption deals for foreign students in financial difficulties.
Japan's financial support for foreign students has been welcomed by the country's foreign student associations including the Asian Students Cultural Association. Yu Ogiso, the association's director general, said the measures "show that the Japanese government has committed itself to the students from countries damaged by the currency turmoil".
Some students have been unable to pay their tuition fees. Others have been forced to spend less time at their studies and more time in part-time work to pay the bills.
Japan's Centre for Domestic and Foreign Students, a government-affiliated organisation that helps foreign students find part-time jobs, said the number of foreign students applying for jobs has more than quadrupled during the past year.
Student counselling organisations report an increased number of foreign students with "mental difficulties" because of the financial problems they are experiencing. Some foreign students have already gone home and others say that financial difficulties are forcing them seriously to consider giving up their studies.
The education ministry has said it will do everything possible to prevent a decline in the number of foreign students studying in Japan.
Back in the 1980s the government set a target of 100,000 foreign students in Japan by the year 2000 as part of the country's internationalisation programme.
East Asia's economic difficulties will put that target out of reach. Most officials believe the number of foreign students in Japan will decline, rather than rise, during the next few years.