A Japanese government plan to provide financial support to students affected by Coronavirus will only benefit the top-performing overseas pupils.
The government announced cash handouts for those in tertiary education, as a means of offsetting tuition and other costs.
Low-income students will be given ¥200,000 (£1,600), and other students will receive half that amount.
This includes foreign students at Japanese language schools.
Koichi Hagiuda, the Education Minister, said in May: “It’s most important for students not to abandon continuing and advancing their education. We’d like to quickly provide assistance to all.”
However, it has emerged that less than one-third of foreign students are eligible for this support.
Kazuki Kimura, a member of the student advocacy group FREE, said: “There are conditions in the aid package applied only to foreign students. We find that discriminatory and want the aid to apply equally to all students.”
International students must fulfil multiple requirements to receive aid money from the Japanese government.
These include a 2.30 grade-point average (GPA) and an 80% class attendance rate. They must also have lost income from part-time jobs, and their institutions may have to confirm which recipients are “unable to continue their studies due to financial constraints”.
The GPA requirement means that only the top quarter of international students are able to claim support.
With many foreign students eventually returning to their home countries, we have set a condition to limit the handout to promising talent most likely to contribute to Japan in the future
– The Japanese Education Ministry
Akiko Morozumi, Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Education, said she was “very surprised to hear the Ministry of Education’s policy to apply conditions only to international students when allocating financial aid. This is highly undesirable”.
“Once a student has been accepted to a Japanese university, there is no reason whatsoever to discriminate against them on the basis of their nationality.
“In fact, I’m sure that there are many cases when international students in Japan face many more challenges than domestic students, including financially.”
Yuichi Kondo, Dean of Admissions at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), said: “I don’t think they did a very good job saying they only want to give money to excellent students.”
However, he added: “It’s tax money and it has to have a good reason, because many Japanese students are also in trouble.”
Futao Huang, professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, said that “aid is important for international students”.
He said: “A huge majority of them do part-time jobs while studying at HEIs [Higher Education Institutions] and Japanese language institutes. Because of Covid-19, most of them could hardly work as they used to and would leave their HEIs due to the financial problems.”
The professor qualified his statement, saying that the plan sounded “relatively fair” because foreign students are not local taxpayers.
Recently, Japan has seen a huge influx of international students, rising from 164,000 in 2011 to 310,000 in 2019.
The Japanese Education Ministry explained the restrictions, saying: “With many foreign students eventually returning to their home countries, we have set a condition to limit the handout to promising talent most likely to contribute to Japan in the future.”