Decline in the Number of Students from Korea

Hisashi Kawai
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University (Dean, Faculty of Commerce)
Areas of Specialization: Accounting, Business Administration, and Information System studies

Discoveries from my visit to Japanese Language Schools in Korea

In early July of this year, I visited two Japanese Language schools located within the city of Seoul, Korea, to give a mock lecture to Korean students wishing to study abroad in Japan. The main purpose of this visit was, of course, to present Chuo University to these students, but shortly before my departure (on June 23), I happened to notice a negatively-toned article in the Nikkei newspaper about how “Foreign students are not coming to Japan,” so it was with some trepidation that I departed for Korea. Although I thought that my mock lecture could probably provide another piece of information for students wishing to study abroad to use in selecting their university, I already had an added encumbrance of a fractured foot, and with the anxiety weighing upon me whether or not they would be able to understand a lecture in Japanese on accountancy theory, which made the trip seem like an even greater journey.

At both schools, the mock lecture was to a small audience of 30 or so students, and whether or not they understood the accountancy theory, they seemed to understand my little jokes, and I was encouraged by the audible laughter of most of the smiling students. The Japanese ability of students at these schools is very high. It is possible to get a glimpse here of the situation of the path to university for Korean high school students who wish to study abroad in Japan. I only found out during this visit, but it seems that most Korean high school students decide on what path they want to take to university and how they are going to do it by the second year of high school. If they do not have a Korean university they want to go to, at that stage they start thinking about studying abroad, and next they decide upon where (the country where) they wish to study, and begin to attend a foreign language school to learn the language of their target country. The high school students who choose to study at a Japanese language school to prepare for university have a strong tendency of having usually already clearly decided that in two years’ time they will go on to study at a university in Japan. These foreign students have no need to attend a Japanese language school in Japan once they arrive here. My unfounded concerns about giving a lecture to these students were over, and what had helped me was none other than the strong sense of purpose of these high school students who wish to study abroad in Japan.

However, I could only celebrate for a moment, since as the Nikkei newspaper article (the same article as mentioned above) had pointed out, the number of Korean students studying abroad in Japan is declining, and the causes are the strong yen and the Great East Japan Earthquake. In fact, at one of the Japanese language schools I visited in this trip, the number of enrolled students has dropped by approximately 42% since before the earthquake (2010). Looking at the paths to university being selected by Korean high school students now, the decline in the number of students enrolled at Japanese language schools is likely to link directly to a decline in the number of students studying abroad in Japan in two years’ time. High school students who have decided to study abroad but who are not now attending Japanese language schools will probably go on to study in other countries instead. Ironically, the genial atmosphere and cozy class sizes that I had encountered at the Japanese language schools in Korea now filled me with a sense of foreboding about the future decline in the numbers of foreign students coming to study at Chuo University.

The Decline in the Number of Foreign Students from Korea

According to the data by country (e-Kuni Shihyo, translated by Korean Office of the Japan Student Support Organization (JASSO)), the number of Koreans studying abroad was 289,000 people as of April 2011, 1.5 times as many as in April 2006. The main destinations (countries) for Koreans studying abroad are overwhelmingly the U.S. and China, as can be seen from Figure 1. The number of students studying abroad in Japan was also showing a gentle increase trend until April 2010, before the earthquake, but this was transformed into a downward trend from April 2011, after the earthquake, and Japan swapped places with Australia. In the year from April 2010 onward, the number of Koreans studying abroad increased by almost 40,000 people in just one year, but most of them headed for Australia and the Philippines (which increased by approximately 30,000 people).

On the other hand, the change in the number of people taking the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is as shown in Figure 2 (produced by this author based upon materials provided by JASSO). We can clearly observe here the marked tendency toward decline since the earthquake. The number of students taking the exam in all countries (including those other than Korea) in June this year (2012) declined by approximately 31% compared with before the earthquake in June 2010, and of these, the number of students who took the exam in examination sites in Korea declined by approximately 16%. There are also, of course, economic background issues, as represented by the issue of the strong yen. But according to analysis by local Japanese language schools, the biggest factor causing the decline is the depth of concern among students who wish to study abroad, and their parents, about radioactive pollution. As long as this concern is not dispelled, at least for the next two to three years, the tendency toward decline is likely to continue further.


Can We Curb the Decline in Foreign Students?

At Chuo University, we currently have 750 foreign students from 25 different countries, of which foreign students from Korea comprise 229 people, or about 30%. Looking at their progression after graduation, they go on to have dazzling careers in the spheres of industry, local government, and education, centered in both Japan and Korea. Moreover, they actively support the next generation of foreign students in Japan on their return to Korea, based upon alumni networks. Looking at this, the significance of receiving foreign students from Korea in Japanese universities is very great for both sides, the foreign students and the universities (including the Japanese students there), and in this respect, in my view, Chuo University has produced a good educational effect (educational results) until now.

On the other hand, the “Opening Up of the Universities” has been called for, where there is strong demand for universities to respond to internationalization. The response that is being demanded in general is one relating to the content and regime on the university side in terms of education, such as the development of classes to be held in English, the improvement of students’ language proficiency, enhancement of scholarship schemes, and provision of places for student interaction, etc. It is certainly true that these factors will influence the numbers of foreign students coming to Japan from overseas and the numbers of Japanese students who go to study abroad, and while we should push forward with this response as part of our mid- to long-term vision, there is little that this will do to directly overcome the decline in foreign students from Korea that is now deemed almost certain. In addition, the main factor in this decline, “concern over radioactive pollution,” like economic and political factors, is something that goes beyond the scope of the field that a university can defend, and is not an issue that can be easily dispelled. But nonetheless, if we were then to just let this issue lie, it would be likely to put the brakes on the further development of the educational and admissions policy know-how that has been built up over the past years, waste physical resources such as international dormitories, and prevent the further enhancement of human networks, etc. Would it be too much of a leap for me to suggest that a response to curb the decline in foreign students from Korea is critical to the internationalization of Japan’s universities in the future?

Mizuho Yoshihara from the Chuo University Admissions Center who accompanied me on this trip to Korea told me, “In order to be able to receive these excellent students who are studying at Japanese language schools in their own countries, and aiming to come to study abroad in Japan’s universities (or graduate schools) as soon as they graduate from high school or within one year of graduating, we need to think about offering a more varied admissions system, including the possibility of completing admissions in their own countries before coming to Japan. Moreover, due to the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and due to the strong yen, as the number of students aiming to come to study abroad in Japan from Korea is drastically declining, we need to make active efforts to conduct briefing sessions and mock lectures overseas, as a means to communicate the appeal of studying abroad in Japan and at this university.” I also agree with this and, in the process of enhancing know-how regarding admissions policy, I also feel the necessity to promptly and actively weave countermeasures to alleviate “concern over radioactive pollution.” In addition, if it is not only this university that has a sense of crisis about the decline in foreign students, we should also unite with all other universities in Japan (for example, through the Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges), or work cooperatively with other universities who concur, to clearly and loudly communicate at local briefing sessions overseas and to the local media that almost all the universities in Japan are currently providing education and services in exactly the same way as before the earthquake. Finally, I would like to finish by introducing the words of a member of staff from one of the Japanese language schools I visited.

“The numbers of students taking the exam for admission to Japanese universities from within Korea changes at a slower pace (it is less volatile) than the number of students (that is, Korean students) taking the exam for admission to Japanese universities from within Japan. The reason for this is that it takes longer for information related to universities in Japan to reach students who are still in Korea than it does to those who are studying in Japan (it is less accessible)… In the future, if Japanese universities conduct aggressive marketing activities to publicize Japan’s universities, in my judgment, the decline could shift to a more positive direction and stabilize, and be transformed into an increase. The method for active marketing would be to hold local briefing sessions about the university periodically, to publicize the advantages of Japanese universities and the methods of active support to assist students in the career path after graduation etc., to bring out all the overall advantages that Japan has. Moreover, because Korea is still experiencing the effects of the strong yen exchange rate, since 2009, if Japanese universities can provide economic assistance policies (such as fee reductions or exemptions, scholarship systems, and dormitory accommodation support etc.), even more students would be attracted, I believe.”




Hisashi Kawai
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University (Dean, Faculty of Commerce)
Areas of Specialization: Accounting, Business Administration, and Information System studies

Born in Tokyo in 1958. After graduating from Iwaki Junior College (now, Higashi Nippon International University) and Takachiho University of Commerce (now, Takachiho University), he was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University in 1996, and became Professor in the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University in 2000. He was appointed to be Dean of the Faculty of Commerce in 2011 and is currently serving in this position.
His current research themes are the compatibility of special characteristics of overseas subsidiaries and information systems, and the development of global SCM systems and strategic investment for informatization. His main works include, A Guide to Computerized Accounting System (co-authored; published by Sosei-sha); and Introduction to XP Compatible New Informatization Literacy: From Word and Excel to System Administration [XP Taio Shin-joho-ka Riterashi Nyumon: Word, Excel kara Shisu-ado made], (co-authored; published by Jikyo).





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