How Japanese universities are attracting more international students

English-taught courses, international student dormitories and increased government funding are just some of the reasons Japan is a study abroad destination you should consider

December 17 2018
How Japanese universities are attracting international students

With Japanese universities now actively seeking to attract students from overseas, and in particular hoping to entice students and researchers from the UK and other countries outside of Asia, this is equally a great chance for international students to access new life-changing experiences and sources of funding. However, despite the rapidly growing number of Japan-related study and work opportunities available to international students, Japan’s outreach efforts often slip under the radar.

The Japanese government is on track to reach its aim of 300,000 foreign students by 2020, which would account for roughly 10 per cent of the total student population. This proportion would bring Japan closer to that of other economically developed non-English speaking nations such as Germany and France.

According to the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), as of May 2017 there are 267,042 international students in Japan. Of these, 93 per cent of international students are from other Asian countries, mainly China. US students account for around 1 per cent, while the UK only sends 640 students a year – behind France, Germany and Italy.

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the best universities in the world are British and American, mainly because of their ability to attract top talent from across the globe. Japan’s best university, Tokyo University, ranks at 42 – behind other East Asian rivals such as China and Singapore.


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In 2014, the Japanese government introduced its Top Global Universities Project, which provides annual grants to 37 Japanese universities for up to 10 years to boost their global status. The 13 Type A (Top Type) universities were selected for their potential to be ranked in the top 100 universities globally. The remaining 27 Type B (Global Traction Type) universities are expected to contribute to the internationalisation of Japanese society.

Japanese universities are upping their targeted outreach efforts to attract more students from Europe and the US. For example, the UK serves as the host for the annual Experience Japan Exhibition, a study and work in Japan fair jointly organised by the British Council and Keio University. This year’s event, which was held at the Royal Society in London on 17 November, brought in more than 18 Japanese universities and funding bodies. We caught up with some of these institutions at the fair to learn about what Japanese universities are doing to appeal to international students.

First, universities are enhancing their online and offline engagement with foreign students to become more accessible. This means expanding the support provided by the international student service offices, for example offering help with administrative procedures such as health insurance and opening up a bank account, having university degree programme information available in English, and sharing the experiences of alumni on social media. For example in 2018, Keio University, one of Japan’s most prestigious private institutions, established a Global Engagement Office to showcase student life, research and news in English.

Next, the universities are transforming campus life to adapt to the needs of foreign students. In Japan, dormitories are rare, as most Japanese students will commute from home, even up to more than two hours one way. Where previously foreign students would have to find their own accommodation, universities are filling this gap by building international dorms. Representative of this trend is Meiji University’s Global Village (MGV) dorm complex, set to open in the spring of 2019. Located near Meiji’s Izumi Campus in central Tokyo, the dorm will provide much-needed budget accommodation with social spaces and a cafeteria for both international and Japanese students.

Most significantly, the universities are reforming their curriculum. Language has been the biggest barrier to attracting overseas students and study has mostly been limited to those seeking opportunities related to Japanese studies. Hoping to attract a more diverse set of learners from both the humanities and sciences, Japanese universities are developing classes, summer courses and even full degree programmes in English. The University of Tokyo (UTokyo) now has more than 24 degree programmes for undergraduates and postgraduates delivered entirely in English.

Funding is also a big issue. Beyond the government scholarships offered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), Japanese universities are increasingly creating their own scholarships targeted at foreign students. These pockets of funding, however, take a little bit more searching for as they can be tied to specific departments or programmes within a university. For example, UTokyo’s Global Science Course, a programme that allows undergraduates from overseas to transfer to UTokyo for the remainder of their degree, offers a monthly stipend of 150,000 yen (£1,000) and fully funded accommodation. The annual tuition fee itself is 535,800 yen (£3,600).

Finally, the Japanese government is also aiming to increase the employment rate of international graduates to 50 per cent by 2020 from the current 30 per cent. Universities are therefore doing more to support foreign students with securing part-time jobs to help fund their studies and improve their prospects of landing full-time positions on graduating. 

There has been a major shift in Japan’s narrative. No longer is the country pitched solely as a destination for fans of its culture. Japan’s higher education sector is seeking to market itself as a gateway for global educational opportunities and graduate-level employment.

Read more: Best universities in Japan

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