Japan wants to attract more British students, but only for worst universities, experts warn

Britons hoping to study in Japan as part of the country’s huge drive to attract 400,000 foreign students may have to settle for third-rate rural campuses that are miles from major cities, experts have warned.

In March, the Japanese government announced its intention to almost double the number of foreigners studying in the country by 2033.

But academics have warned that the plan’s true purpose is to save low-ranked institutions from “financial ruin” as Japan’s declining population fails to produce enough young people to support its more than 600 universities.

Dr Jeffrey Hall, a lecturer at Kanda University in Chiba, a city east of Tokyo, told i that “Tokyo [wanting] to attract more foreign students is definitely tied to problems caused by the declining population”.

“Highly-ranked universities will have no problem attracting enough domestic students, but other universities will face dropping application numbers,” Dr Hall said.

“Filling the gap with international students can save lower-ranked universities from financial ruin.”

Millions of houses have been abandoned nationwide due to the decline in Japan’s population (Photo:Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty)

Japan’s bottom-tier universities are “struggling”, Dr Hall added, saying they can’t sustain themselves “with a dwindling number of 18-year-olds”.

In a move that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida earlier in the year billed as “investment in people” that would “realise a new form of capitalism”, the government announced it would scrap its current student visa programme and replace it with a streamlined system that favours highly qualified applicants.

Japan’s Ministry of Justice said the visa changes will “help enhance Japan’s international competitiveness” by encouraging students to stay and work in the country after graduating.

According to the ministry, Japan seeks to attract more doctoral and master’s students from the world’s top universities, many of which are in the UK, to reinvigorate its ailing university sector.

However, Japan’s top universities, such as Tohoku University, University of Tokyo and Osaka University, are set to remain extremely competitive for applicants, with mostly less well known institutions looking to fill up vacant places with foreign students.

Talking to i, Dr James Brown, professor of political science at Temple University in Tokyo, said “They [Japan] have too many universities for the population of young people that they have.

“If they’re not going to close those down, then they need to have more foreign students.”

He doubts whether students from the UK, Europe and North America will want to enroll at many of the universities on offer, which conventionally only educate domestic Japanese with very few international students.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “The numbers that they’re looking for are just so great… especially for the universities in the more rural, less attractive, inaccessible parts of Japan.

“I just can’t see that many foreign students are going to go there.”

The government’s prior target, set in 2019, of 300,000 foreign students, attracted criticism for including vocational and language courses. Despite living in Japan on student visas, many arrivals ended up becoming unofficial migrant workers doing manual jobs in sectors gripped by labour shortages.