Ministry of Education formulates strategy to bring foreign students back to Japan

File photo of the Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign students attend a course at a university in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in November 2021.

The government plans to revise its basic strategy for accepting foreign students in a bid to restore the number of such students, which has plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic, sources say.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology intends to set up an expert group soon to review priority academic areas and target countries and regions from which attract students, sources said.

According to the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of international students enrolled in programs in Japan was 242,444 as of May 2021. The ministry has set a goal to reduce the number to the pre-pandemic level of 310,000. by 2027.

Under the current strategy, developed in 2013, the focus has been on four academic areas: engineering, medicine, legal systems and agriculture. The ministry plans to add digital, which has become increasingly important in recent years, and green transformation, which aims at decarbonization, to the priority axes of the new strategy. Measures to increase the number of international students majoring in science and engineering should also be a focus of the strategy review.

Currently, students from nine major regions of the world, such as Southeast Asia, Africa and the United States, have been specified as priority targets. The ministry plans to put more emphasis on European students, the sources said. The number of foreign students from Europe represents 2-3% of the total, but the figure has almost halved, from 10,345 in 2019 to 5,622 in 2021, marking a significant drop due to the pandemic compared to to other regions.

Foreign students are expected to play a role in strengthening ties between Japan and their own country after returning home.

“Europe is important for Japan also from the point of view of promoting cooperation with democratic countries that share values,” said a senior ministry official.

Russia and Belarus had been included in the priority targets, but these countries were removed from the list following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ministry intends to confirm that these countries will not be on the list when the strategy is reviewed.

When revising the strategy, the ministry also plans to compile specific measures to restore the number of foreign students. He wants to include the measures in the second set of proposals to be presented next spring by the council to create the future of education, which is under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.