How do Japanese students really feel about studying abroad? The British Council's Anna Esaki-Smith looks at some of the findings of a report called Japan: Debunking the 'inward-looking' myth, published today.
The trends for Japanese students going abroad
There is a general belief that a so-called 'inward-looking' mindset is behind the recent decline in Japanese students studying abroad. Japan, viewed not that long ago as a major source market of international students, sent 83,000 students overseas in 2004 -- the country’s highest to date. But in 2011 that number fell to 57,501, according to Japan’s Ministry of Education via the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Beset with a rapidly ageing population and uncertain economic outlook, and having fallen below China in 2010 to rank as the world’s third largest economy, the Japanese government has prioritised the creation of a globally competitive workforce and aims to double the number of Japanese students studying overseas by 2020.
A survey of Japanese students aged 16 to 25
How influential is a specific cultural mindset in student decision-making? To find out, we recently surveyed Japanese students between 16 to 25 years of age about their opinions on the advantages and obstacles of overseas study. We received just over 2,000 finished responses to an online survey conducted in Japanese and found the results -- analysed in our report -- to be quite surprising.
Seven findings that stood out from the report
- Japanese student sentiment towards overseas study is similar to, if not more favourable than, the sentiment of counterparts in other developed economies, namely the UK and US.
- The biggest advantage acquired by studying overseas was gaining language skills, according to surveyed students.
- Inadequate language skills, cost and concern over safety were the top three obstacles to overseas study.
- Financial support, foreign language courses and evidence of increased employability were cited as incentives that could spur interest in study abroad.
- The most desired length of study for students who want to study abroad is one year, although of the surveyed students who have already studied overseas, more than half studied for a period of three months or less.
- Japanese student awareness of government initiatives encouraging overseas study was low, although many policies are enacted through senior high schools and universities, so the actual source of support may not be clear.
- The Japanese students who had studied overseas previously were more optimistic about their own personal futures than those who were not interested in study abroad. Conversely, students aspiring to study overseas were the most negative on the future of Japan, which one might conclude is at least contributing to their reasons for wanting to go abroad.
International study experience and the future of Japan
Perhaps the most thought-provoking finding is that Japanese students with an overseas study experience were more optimistic about their personal prospects than their peers studying exclusively in Japan. What exactly is the psychological impact of studying overseas? Certainly, gaining the skills necessary for successful employment is a keen focus for students, but perhaps the less tangible benefits should be carefully weighed, especially when considering a youth population tasked with shouldering the formidable economic and social challenges that Japan is currently facing.