As the global flow of international students continues to expand and crisscross countries and continents, there is at least one corner of the world that seems to be going against the flow: Japan.According to the latest statistics available from the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science, the number of Japanese students studying abroad declined 11 percent to 67,000 in 2008, compared to 2007. The number was off 20 percent from the peak in 2004 and according to experts and university officials, that downward trajectory has continued since 2008.
For the last three to four years, you get the sense that the number has been declining steadily, said Tatsu Hoshino, an independent foreign study counselor in Tokyo.But the falling number of Japanese youth eager to study overseas appears to be more than just an enrollment trend. It is also strikingly inconsistent with the direction that the leading Japanese employers say they want to take, as they seek to expand their global reach in search of new markets. Their strategy relies on internationally savvy young talent.There is clearly a mismatch between what the corporate recruiters are looking for and the college job seekers, whose skills do not match the employers’ requirements, said Hitomi Okazaki, editor in chief of Riku-nabi, the leading job-search Web site in Japan.
Only 68.8 percent of the students poised to graduate in March had found a job as of December, a record low, according to government statistics. The figure was 81.6 percent in 2007.College educators and government officials often complain about waning student interests in overseas studies, despite the fact that the education ministry and universities are pushing students to study abroad to meet the growing needs for the society to become more internationally oriented.
Naoki Ogi, professor of education at Hosei University in Tokyo, who frequently offers commentaries in the media on Japanese youth, has a close-up view of the issue.
Until several years ago,there would be 6 or 7 students in my upperclassmen’s seminar of 20, who had overseas study experiences, he said by telephone.Currently, there is none in my seminar of 17.He has compiled his own theory of why this is the case. Young Japanese were increasingly becoming introverted and risk-averse, Mr. Ogi said, and were unwilling and ill-prepared to take on new challenges. He added that he believed their lack of interest in going abroad was part of that growing unease with the unknown and the challenging.
They are growing weak and feeble mentally and some even lack the basic survival instincts, he said.Hochuen Kwan, a sophomore at Waseda University in Tokyo, said he believed Japanese college students generally had lower energy and motivation than young students from his native Hong Kong. “For Japanese students, getting into top university is their goal and once that’s done, they don’t have much energy to study so hard,he said. Japanese students go through a grueling examination to get into university but completing university studies is generally not considered difficult.Ms. Okazaki of Riku-nabi said that one reason students were staying put was financial, given the state of the economy, especially since tuition in countries like the United States is soaring.
She also argued that there were still plenty of college job seekers with the energy and confidence they need to land jobs with big companies. But many of them were caught off guard, however, when corporations began asking for globally oriented talent,she said.Companies began saying that very recently, just this past year or so, she said.It takes years of preparation for students to go on an overseas study program.There are signs, some experts say, that college students are reconsidering study-abroad programs.Since fall, the number of participants in the study abroad fair type events is growing,said Mr. Hoshino, the counselor, who left a leading study-abroad company to become an independent counselor, sensing a renewed market demand.