Thursday 13 November 2014


Despite a large decline in numbers, Japanese students can still be tempted overseas by the lures of culture and language, a new survey by the British Council has found.

Japan, with the world’s third largest economy, has seen a precipitous slide from a high of 83,000 Japanese students who studied abroad in 2004 to 57,501 in 2011. The downward trend has become a national concern, and Japan has made creating a globally-competitive young workforce a priority; aiming to double the number of domestic students studying overseas by 2020.

To support countries and institutions wishing to attract Japanese students, the British Council’s Education Intelligence service surveyed 2000 Japanese students and recent graduates to try to understand their intentions and motivations towards study abroad.

Contrary to the belief that Japanese students have an ‘inward-looking’ attitude that plays an influential role in preventing them from looking beyond the comforts of their home country, the report, ‘Japan: Debunking the “inward-looking” myth’ found that Japanese student sentiment towards overseas study is similar to, if not more favourable than, the sentiment of their US and UK counterparts. 33 per cent said they were interested in study abroad and 12 per cent said they had already studied overseas previously. 46 per cent of students who responded to the survey were not interested in studying abroad, while nine per cent didn’t know.

The experience of experiencing the host country’s culture was the most attractive draw both for students who had studied abroad, and for those that wished to. For aspirational students, the UK’s culture was an even bigger pull than US culture; more students who wanted to study in the UK cited UK culture as their main reason for wanting to study there, compared to those who wished to study in the US and were attracted by US culture.

The survey also found that students who have studied overseas previously were the most optimistic about their own future while those who were most pessimistic were students not interested in studying abroad.

“There are cultural considerations that are unique to students across the globe,” says Anna Esaki-Smith, Editorial Director at Education Intelligence and the author of the report. “However, with this survey we can see that very fundamental considerations, such as inadequate foreign language ability, cost and employment, play significant roles when Japanese students consider overseas study. With a deeper understanding of what students see as the benefits of study abroad, and the possible advantages to be gained, the potential to inspire more Japanese students to become more globally competitive through study abroad increases. The benefits to be gained can be shared widely, not only by the students themselves but by more diverse university populations, an invigorated Japanese private sector and the global economy as a whole.”

Notes to Editor

The report will be made available for free download to registered members of the British Council’s Education Intelligence service. The report will be launched at an event in London on November 14 2014, hosted by the Embassy of Japan and the British Council at the Royal Society. Media are able to attend.

The British Council conducted the survey in September 2014

We received 2,004 responses to our self-completion online survey from students and recent graduates across major regions of Japan. Three distinct types of students emerged – those who have studied overseas, those who aspire to do so, and those who want to pursue their studies exclusively in Japan.

Of those (12 per cent) who had studied overseas - the most prominent reason why these students chose to study overseas was to improve language skills, at 79 per cent. English language education reform is a significant issue being discussed to help promote more Japanese student mobility. In addition, student reasons for having pursued overseas study were fulfilling a desire to travel overseas at 46 per cent, to launch an international career at 35 per cent and because friends, family or professors had encouraged them to do so, at 30 per cent. Cost was not a factor cited by many respondents.

Of those (33 per cent) who were interested in study abroad, when asked their reasons for wanting to pursue overseas study, 79 per cent of the students said it was to improve language skills, 53 per cent said it was to travel overseas, 47 per cent said it was the start of an international career, 32 per cent said it was to become more independent and 31 per cent said it was to gain credit for their field of study.

Twenty-four per cent of the students who said they wanted to study overseas aspired to study in the US, 16 per cent to Australia, 15 per cent to the UK, 11 per cent to Canada and seven per cent to Germany.

Of those (46 per cent) who were not interested in study abroad, 51 per cent said it was because they did not have good foreign language skills, 41 per cent said it was too expensive, 32 per cent said it was unsafe– not surprising considering Japan is one of the safest countries in the world -- 12 per cent said courses abroad were too difficult and 12 per cent said they were worried about being homesick. Interestingly, the well-publicised conflict with corporate recruitment season was viewed by only three per cent of these respondents as being an obstacle to pursuing overseas study. Additionally, ten per cent more men than women said they were not interested in pursuing study abroad.

A significant portion of students who did not want to study overseas did not have a passport compared to those respondents who did want to pursue study abroad. It may be reasonable to conclude those respondents who were not interested in overseas study and did not have passports have not had previous experience traveling overseas. In addition, when the overall survey group was asked whether they had a family member who had studied abroad previously, of the group who replied they did not, the responses from students who did not want to study overseas were most prominent.

For more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, or 0207 389 4871

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