Japanese exchange students skipping over US

According to the Asahi Shimbun, OECD data shows Japanese university students are increasingly skipping over the US in favor other other destinations. The US captured a whopping 75% of the “market share” for Japanese students in 1997 with 47,000 America-bound that year. However, by 2007 that number had fallen under 50% with around 37,000 students. China has been on the rise as a destination – 19,000 students in 2005 (up 100% from 10 years ago). The total number of students was around 80,000 in 2005, up 30% from 1995. US diplomats in the country are concerned and have noticed a drop-of in attendance at their annual study abroad fairs in Tokyo.

Reasons for the shift include:

  • The erosion of America’s image as a vibrant, exciting country. (Note: My mistake. See comments) Students see America as a highly competitive place to study and may choose Canada or Australia instead for the more laid-back image. The article claims that some even choose Scandinavia, thinking that learning English among non-natives will be easier because they speak slower.
  • A growing interest in the broader world among Japanese students (and more universities forming exchange relationships with a more diverse set of schools)
  • A university source claims more students are asking whether Japanese-language service is available in the host university, though that’s almost never the case.

The tone of the article is that kids these days are more “inwardly oriented” and less willing to challenge themselves. However, more and more Japanese students are studying abroad. I find it much more plausible that Japanese kids are simply more interested in Asia and the wider world, partly because those countries are a lot more developed and accessible now than they were even a decade ago.

The article does not get into another major hurdle for Japanese students who want to study in the US – the draconian visa process and the image that the US has become harder to get into. Since 9/11 the US has made the visa process progressively more restrictive and annoying. As a result, even though the number of foreign students to the US from all countries rose from 475,169 in 2000 to 595,874 in 2007, the US saw its market share fall from 25% to 19.7% in the same period.

More detailed data in English on all countries can be found at the OECD website.

88 thoughts on “Japanese exchange students skipping over US”

  1. Thanks for highlighting this.

    I’ll posit another (partial) explanation – relaxing of marijuana laws in some of those other destinations.

    Honestly, I’ve had more Scandinavians fool me into thinking that they are native English speakers than people from anywhere else.

  2. I’m pretty disappointed in the Asahi for trying to turn this into a 草食 thing.

    When I read this…


    … I can’t help but think that “my pace” includes smoking up and trying to get laid.

  3. I have to admit, my first thought was how much of a pain in the ass it is to even enter the country these days. If I wasn’t a citizen, I don’t think I’d ever bother going to the US at this point.

  4. The main explanation has to be that Japanese people now see Asia as the most lucrative business frontier and they want to have some knowledge of the culture and languages in order to help them get better jobs in a tough market. It’s also likely cheaper to go to school abroad.

    This is a lot like the Japanese language craze that swept the world when Japan’s bubble was inflating and everyone thought they were going to take over the world. I’m sure a lot fewer people are thinking of studying, living, and working in Japan than in the 80’s. It’s natural for people to go where they think the money and jobs are.

    The bottom line America isn’t going to start crying any tears over lost Japanese students. The actual number has always been quite small, and the U.S. will almost certainly easily replace any lost foreign students from Japan with willing, able, and eager students from other countries. Despite the tarnish on its reputation at present, it’s still one of the most sought after countries in the world for people to live and work in. If the business situation in America starts to look like it’s really promising again, the tide will turn back again, but it really doesn’t matter.

  5. “The main explanation has to be that Japanese people now see Asia as the most lucrative business frontier and they want to have some knowledge of the culture and languages in order to help them get better jobs in a tough market. It’s also likely cheaper to go to school abroad.”

    I disagree, from my experience — I think more and more people are going overseas, but to places with MUCH cheaper tuition that the US (or the UK) which means New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. I know a parent of half children who sent the first to the US and the second to New Zealand for university, and the later had a mere 1/3 the annual cost…

    And the visa thing is huge. America has made it so difficult to get a visa that it’s simply not worth it unless you have a truly overwhelming reason.

  6. This is actually very interesting. I’ve been talking to a lot of Todai profs lately for work, and what they are telling me suggests they are finding it hard to get the best students because of competition with U.S. universities. Maybe a lot of the top-grade students still go to the best schools in America, but the rest have realised that the average schools in other countries are just as good. And it may be easier to get into a school like Sydney, Auckland, Alberta or Birmingham, which are higher in the international rankings than a lot of “famous” American schools.

    But wasn’t there some article we complained about a while back that suggested a lower rate of Japanese students at American universities meant that the Japanese were less internationalised? These findings would tend to suggest the opposite.


  7. What Curzon says is true – there are many US colleges that charge $25,000 plus annual tuition that are further down on global rankings than Canadian/Australian/New Zealand schools which charge closer to $4000.

    I’ve known a number of academics who were teaching at US schools and moved to Canada/Australia/New Zealand because of lighter teaching loads (more time for research). They wind up teaching the same courses at $300 a head that students were paying $2500 plus a head for in the United States.

    There are also the horror stories of temp faculty at a $25,000 a year school teaching the same course at the $1200 a year community college night school down the road. More common than you think.

  8. One of the explanation is companies stop sending their employees to American universities.

    1)Because it’s recession.
    2)Because once their employees get American MBAs,they get head hunted to multinational firms.
    3)Because MBA are not that useful in real life.
    4)Because Chinese and Korean are now taught in highschool,that makes youth a lot easier to select these countries to study for university.
    5)If you are just “I-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-do-with-my-life-but-want-to-speak-English”type,going to the U.S is not so great idea.It’s a lot more expensive and dangerous.People carry guns in that country,you know.

  9. 留学で人生を棒に振る日本人―“英語コンプレックス”が生み出す悲劇 (扶桑社新書) (新書)
    栄 陽子 (著)

    This book argues that Japanese students studying in the United States report the lowest rate of satisfaction with their experience of students studying in English-speaking countries and are victims of crime more often.

  10. UK unis are definitely making a big push to recruit Japanese students, with the number of fairs stepped up and many of them starting to have entire websites produced in Japanese.

  11. Foreign undergrads are a colossal cashcow for universities. Looking at where Japanese students have gone historically – the University of California system has been one of the biggest draws (in fact, California has more foreign students of all stripes than anywhere else in the US). I’m not sure how widely know this is outside of academia, but UofC is hurting. Bad. I’ve heard some candid estimates that research productivity of the schools in the system could decline by as much as a 1/3 because of the current budget crisis. If that means 1/3 fewer articles on Japanese poetry, that might not be such a big deal, but if it means 1/3 fewer ambitious projects in engineering and the sciences, that could have national ramifications. With public universities increasingly relying on tuition to keep the university infrastructure running, it isn’t unfeasible that a decline in foreign student enrollment (not just Japanese, obviously) could become a drain on American productivity. In other public systems (Canada, Australia) foreign students are practically keeping the lights on.

  12. The loss of Japanese students is more than made up for by the rising tide of Chinese students at American Universities. The top university choice for foreign students, especially Chinese, is the University of Southern California. Go Trojans.

  13. Just a minor note:

    “UC” generally represents the University of California system, (e.g. UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc.). “UofC” refers to the University of Chicago and the University of Calgary, it seems.

    I’m curious as to what exactly changed with US student visa applications before and after 9/11. I’ve never had to go through it, and I keep hearing how it’s affected foreign student enrollment, but I don’t know what the specifics are (besides lengthier review and less than hospitable consular officials).

  14. I may have to dig up where it came from, someone at work mentioned it to me in passing about a month ago. But along with Chinese students, Korean students have grown to outnumber Japanese students studying at US universities (at least at the undergrad level).

    I would think that broader international interest and more affordable options would weigh in more heavily than a questionable zero-sum calculation regarding US attractiveness. I believe that Japanese students choosing to go to other countries is great – I see little bad about a more diverse international experience.

    As far as visa difficulties, maybe no one mentioned it to me, but I never heard of these difficulties from Japanese friends of mine who are/had studied abroad in the U.S. I’m wondering if difficulties died down noticeably in the past 8+ years.

  15. Undergraduate students are usually more lucrative from a university perspective than gradate students. China sends about 25,000 undergrads compared to 60,000 graduate students to the US each year. Japanese ratios were reversed.

    Also, far more Korean students studying in the US. Different than Japan, however, as many of those students are coming with immigrant family or are planning to immigrate. The Japanese students typically just came, dropped a pile of money, and went back home, which is ideal from the POV of universities and the cities that house them.

    Thanks for the correction ToastR.

  16. Here is a list of changes, courtesy of Associated Content:


    They are mostly minor but add up to a pain in the neck. There are other restrictions that aren’t related to the visa application – tight restrictions on working during and after your studies, limits on getting a social security card and driver’s license, etc. More important, in my view, is the image that the US has become a less welcoming place.

    The work restrictions in particular cut off the American dream (i.e., a long-term career in the US) for most foreign students and I would definitely like to see them relaxed.

  17. Sixteen comments so far and no one is mentioning American immigration take your fingerprints?
    It made quite a fuss in Japan when it was introduced here….

  18. Yes and they take your picture too, in both US and Japan. It’s a pain but it’s one that I believe is being introduced by many of America’s competitors as well.

  19. I think fingerprints are one of those things that nobody likes, but very few people are going to actually change their travel plans over. I don’t know anyone who canceled their trip to Japan because of it, for example. The increased visa screening though DID prevent quite a few people coming, and I think even more people chose not to go to the US during the first couple of years after 9/11 due to fear of future terrorist attacks.

    I have definitely seen statistics showing the decline and recovery in the foreign student population in the US following 9/11.

    For example:
    ” For the first time since 1971, the absolute number of foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities declined in 2003/2004, apparently as an indirect result of the U.S. ”war on terrorism”, according to an annual survey released here Monday.

    The total number of foreign students who came to the United States to study for the academic year last year came to 572,509, a decrease of 2.4 percent below 2002/03, according to ‘Open Doors 2004,’ which is published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. State Department.

    The number of undergraduate students enrolled in 2003/04 actually fell by some five percent, according to the report which noted that some of the loss was made up by a 2.5 increase in the number of graduate students for the year. ”

    “The number of new foreign students coming to the United States grew this school year, after several years of weakness that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, according to a survey to be released today by the Institute of International Education.
    Another sign of a turnaround was a sharp upturn in student visas, said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. Dr. Goodman said the State Department issued a record 591,050 student and exchange visas in the 12 months ending in September, a 14 percent increase over the previous year and 6 percent more than in the year leading up to the 2001 attacks.
    “We’ve been worried for three years that there would be a slow and steady decline in the number of international students studying here,” Dr. Goodman said. “But it looks like the decline is ending.””

  20. What about the value of the yen relative to the dollar and other currencies? Surely that has an influence when deciding where to spend a year or three overseas?

  21. I wonder how many of the total are doing a one year exchange? Since those students most often pay tuition at their home universities, they may look good for the numbers, but from the university administration perspective, are often little more than extra mouths to feed.

  22. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yen#Historical_exchange_rate

    Here’s the yen/dollar exchange rates for every month starting in 1973. I don’t think the fluctuations between 2001 and early 2008 were big enough to make a big difference, although with the yen now so much higher than the dollar it might push a few more Japanese over the edge into choosing the US-although increased US tuition might cancel that out.

  23. Weekly Toyo Keizai has Glen Fukushima writing a piece on yet again”Japan-going- insular-because-there’s-so-little-of-them-at-Harvard-Business-School-while-armies of-Chinese- and Korean-students-are-storming-in”meme.
    Naturally I became a bit sarcastic on the way people analyzing this phenomenon.
    Fukushima was praising the process of Korean teens going to South East Asia only to pick up some English for cheaper price,so that they can get good grade in SAT and then become Ivy leaguer in the U.S.
    If that is what it takes to make it in 21st century,I’ll definitely remain munching grass in sinking ship.

  24. The erosion of America’s image as a vibrant, exciting country. Students see America as a highly competitive place to study and may choose Canada or Australia instead for the more laid-back image.

    Those two sentences contradict each other. I think the second is more true than the first. China and Korea are still full of pepped-up ambitious kids in a boom economy mindset who are perfect candidates for kicking arse at Columbia or Berkeley. Grass-eating cliches aside, I think it’s generally true that Japanese kids are more interested in quality of life nowadays, and don’t care as much about future earning potential as they used to. Some still do, but their numbers are dwindling.

  25. One more thing.American college degree won’t mean much in Japan compare to Korea and China.
    Financially speaking,few years at Columbia or Berkeley won’t be an investment but a sunk cost,unless you are thinking about settling down to American society or find yourself a job in multinationals and become a globetrotting business person.

  26. Yes they seem to contradict each other but they are both true and that is the way the article put it. The way I see it, students won’t think it is worth it to go to the US and work your ass off (and pay a lot) unless the US is seen as the be all end all of college experiences. I guess that could have been expressed better.

  27. New Zealand popular for outdoor sports and pot,
    plus there are pretty much no attractive women there
    so young Japanese ladies are stood in good stead
    for a cocking.
    many companies in Tokyo are sending students to the UK
    to any university they can, it doesn’t matter, they’ll take anyone
    on one of their mickey mouse MA courses (intl. development etc.)
    even though they can barely communicate in English. Check out the
    BEO website for example – it’s huge !
    The UK wants the money and that is the bottom line,
    although recent trends suggest a drop in foreign students to the UK.

    also companies like Globis offer MBA in Japan that is Harvard affiliated so
    if you can do without the clam chowder you are locked in. I agree with
    Baseface though that an MBA isn’t that useful, and in fact it is hordes of
    MBA wielding go-getters that are probably driving the world off a cliff.
    Everything they touch turns to spreadsheets…
    Who can blame anyone for not wanting to go and study in that
    rat-infested shit hole anyway ?

  28. No, that’s not the way the article put it. You translated it wrong.


    This phrase means that the students are flinching because they are frightened of the “overflowing with energy” America.

    Thanks Joe Jones for pointing this out.

  29. “American college degree won’t mean much in Japan compare to Korea and China.”

    I wonder why.

  30. It’s very hard to break into the Japanese corporate world unless you get recruited into a large firm as a graduate of a major Japanese university. HR at just about any Japanese company is an incredibly bureaucratic machine, and they have one fixed way of doing things. If you get educated overseas, your entry-level options in Japan are basically limited to foreign-owned companies, most of which are simultaneously recruiting from the major Japanese universities. Forget about public service or domestic academia.

    I work with a lot of internationally-educated Japanese people, almost all of whom did undergrad in Japan and then went to the US for an MBA (finance people) or LLM (legal people) mid-career, often on their company’s dime. You’ll also notice this pattern among politicians — Koizumi, Aso and Hatoyama all got their bachelor’s in Japan and then did grad school overseas.

    I get the impression that China has a more fluid professional labor market thanks to the fact that its economy is growing so quickly. Spots at institutions like Peking and Tsinghua are still coveted and practically guarantee a good paycheck (by Chinese standards at least), but HR seems much less institutionalized and more about personal connections than anything else. South Korea, however, seems just as bureaucratically aggravating as Japan, with the added bonus that they hate foreign influence of any kind.

  31. The recruting season of major company end in March and they’ll interview student in the third year.No chance if you are attending American college that ends in July.
    In academic and bureaucratic world,connection is crucial.In case of academism,your professor is the key to the post.In case of bureaucrat,the seminar(and prof)you attend is very important along is the public servant exams.

    China has been credit American university glad more since they’ve lost an entire generation of educated elites because of cultural revolution.And more or less you are related to well-to-do family if you can afford to go overseas to have education,especially American university,that matters.

    Koreans don’t trust their post gradute schools since they are pretty corrupt.

  32. So Japan has its own established corporate bureaucracy who can´t process deviance,
    and Koreans are crooked + love to impress their neighbours with the money they spend on their kids education.

    Pretty much what I thought.

    But blaming chinese numbers on the CR is a bit of a stretch, people from HK o Taiwan also consider studying in America very desirable.

    “I get the impression that China has a more fluid professional labor market thanks to the fact that its economy is growing so quickly. Spots at institutions like Peking and Tsinghua are still coveted and practically guarantee a good paycheck”
    True for the most part, it is pretty informal. Chinese (and HKers) take a very American way of seeing their companies, in contrast to Europe or Japan´s “i´ll do whatever to avoid getting fired” mindset.

    Its funny cause when I bitch about the 就活 to my korean friends, they all tell me its paradise compared to Korea’s. They even care about your grades there!

  33. Miles:

    Oops, my mistake. Corrected. Fear not, I was not intentionally trying to deceive anyone. That’s what I thought it said until you pointed it out.

  34. “So Japan has its own established corporate bureaucracy who can´t process deviance,
    and Koreans are crooked + love to impress their neighbours with the money they spend on their kids education.”

    I didn’t say that.Toyota is pretty bureaucratic and very little Haverd Business school graduate but have managed to out run Big three.

    Korean’s aren’t crooked,but the legacy of authoritarianism lives in the form of corruption within academic bureaucracy.And competition for good job is a lot more severe since the opportunity is both heavily Seoul-centric and Chaebol-centirc.Those who wants alternative seeks opportuity in immigration.

    That can also be said about the Chinese commnunity of former colonies like Hong Kong and Taiwan.Studying in America also means about getting green card.

    “i´ll do whatever to avoid getting fired” mindset.

    It’s already happening in China.There are already too many university graduates.Which is why more heads to America to be educated in the center of excellence.

  35. I guess the Hwang Woosuk cloning scare makes sense then. Its true there’s little academic output of any significance from SK.

    “I didn’t say that.Toyota is pretty bureaucratic and very little Haverd Business school graduate but have managed to out run Big three.”
    Didn’t say is a bad thing, 就活 is annoying but japan’s labor market is pretty awesome if you ask me. Can’t deny it works.

  36. Is an MBA the opposite of education in the humanities?

    By the way, one thing we haven’t remarked on here, although we have elsewhere, is that there are relatively few good schools in Korea and China. Japan has three top fifty schools in the THES rankings. China and Korea have one each, but only just.

    These rankings have, of course, been criticised, but in terms of broad stokes, that’s pretty clear, I think.

  37. “South Korea, however, seems just as bureaucratically aggravating as Japan, with the added bonus that they hate foreign influence of any kind.”

    Korea values foreign degrees, particularly American ones, very highly. They are highly bureaucratic in their own way, and the education system is very similar to the Japanese one in a lot of ways, but they do seem to place a very high premium on overseas education.

    “Didn’t say is a bad thing, 就活 is annoying but japan’s labor market is pretty awesome if you ask me. Can’t deny it works.”
    I certainly can. It might have worked until around 10-15 years ago, but the system is breaking down-or at least going through a major transition. The number of irregular employees is skyrocketing as the number of “lifetime employment” positions, which were ever only something like 20% of the labor force, are in decline. Wages are stagnant, poverty is on the rise, etc. Since they won’t be able to go back to the old system, companies and universities are going to have to adjust somehow if they want to maintain historically large upwardly mobile middle class.

    As for Taiwan- although their education system unsurprisingly bears some resemblance to that of Japan or Korea, I think the employment system is a lot more American. Taiwan is a country of small and medium size corporations, with nothing resembling the zaibatsu/chaebol/keiretsu, and the labor market tends to reflect that. Compared to Japanese or Koreans, Taiwanese I know seem to switch jobs fairly casually, and also seem to be allowed to use their vacation days.

  38. Roy, aren’t some of the factors that you mention as much a result of globalization than employment practicies and are shared by developed economics like US, UK Germany, etc. ?

    Are the number of irregular employees really skyrocketing? I’ve seen estimates that irregulars were 27% of the workforce in the mid-1980s and are about 32-33% today. An increase, yes, but not a skyrocket. Contingent and part time workers have made up over 30% of the US workforce since the early 1990s so Japan does not seem to be an outlier here. The numbers in Australia and the UK are slightly higher.

    Wage stagnance is also not something that is unique to Japan. Despite more robust growth rates, price inflation, and a nearly 20% increase in productivity, the real income of the median US household declined by around 2% between 2000 and 2007. And that’s before the Great Recession.

    I’m also very doubtful about the Japanese poverty statistics (not the number, but rather what they mean) – an elderly couple who own their own home and bring in 180,000 yen a month would be solidly “in poverty” by the standard measure. That measure is almost an insult to people in real poverty.

    It seems as though Japanese labor trends are fairly normal for developed countries so it is hard to see how anything aside from legislation (like a ban on haken) is going to change things now. There are fears, however, that such a ban would only serve to erode Japan’s economic competitiveness so nobody really knows what to do.

    Decades like this one sure make me glad that I study novels and stuff.

  39. OK,just discovered the Glen Fukushima piece isn’t on Toyo Keizai but Weely Diamond….

    And Korea does respect foreign influence which is why there’s strong backlash.
    We have a situation in Korea right now that ex-and first female PM,Han Myeong-sook has been prosecuted for bribery during office years.She has been in doctor course of Ochanomize Women’s University from ’96 to ’97 and returned to Korea becuase of the invitaion from Kim Dae Jung to join his party.She was 53 when she was writing her doctoral thesis.Totally unthinkable in Japan.

    I think the best reason why Japanese don’t see merit in studying in the U.S as much as Chinese,Korean or Indian is because they count out the possible immigration scenario.
    I was also thinking about companies cutting down the number of expatriates in the U.S for numbers of reasons(recession,replacing the post with locals etc) which could be another reason of the decline of the student.There were many Japanese kids in the 80’s who chose to remain in the U.S after spending highschool years and went to American college.I could’ve been one of them if I was a bit older when my father was reposted to Tokyo head office.

  40. Yeah, if you had been 2 or 3 years older I could imagine you just staying to finish highschool, or at least being close enough to apply for US colleges.

  41. “I certainly can. It might have worked until around 10-15 years ago, but the system is breaking down-or at least going through a major transition”
    I do think its pretty unsustainable, but coming from a country with 20% unemployment I can’t really complain. Japan is overly rigid and productivity is low, but hey people can work here.

  42. I am not actually as pessimistic about Japan as that last comment may have sounded, I just expect the post-war employment system to change a lot more from henceforth than Spandrell seems to. But it’s also not exactly my field of expertise.

    Therefore, in my capacity as a fake economist, my prescription for Japan’s labor issues is simple: robots- lots of robots.

  43. By the way, does anybody but Glen Fukushima believe that Japan is growing increasingly insular? Since my interactions with the country in the 90s, it has, if anything become more open, at least to broad commercial trends. I remember when I used to crave non-kissaten coffee, belgian beer and sub-4000 yen bottles of wine (My version of Krispy Kreme, I guess) in Osaka. Perhaps one of the reasons there are so few Japanese kids at Harvard these days is that they don’t have to go abroad to buy stuff that seemed neat-oh in the 1980s.

    Anyway, I have just coincidentally read a chapter in the book “Pacific Alliance” by Kent Calder, which came out first in Japanese under the title 日米同盟の静かなる危機. Many, many more stats about the relative decline of Japan in the American consciousness as compared to Korea and China, but interestingly, the number of Korean-Americans in some major Cali cities hasn’t grown that much, if at all. The number of Japanese-Americans is definitely shrinking though, and Chinese-Americans are booming.

    Calder also points the finger at declining person to person links at the elite level for what he sees as a decline in the U.S. Japan alliance. I would add that many of the “elites” in the States got used to dealing with a certain set of politicians that they are not at home with the new crowd. I would also say that elite communication would probably have an effect in the academic world as well. As academics in the U.S. decreasingly turn away from Japan, there may well be less ability for profs in Japan to send promising young students to their friends in the States. And it would also mean fewer programs for sending Japanese exchange students so that they can get a taste of the U.S. for future study.

    Calder seems to have some solutions to repair these fraying ties, but that will have to wait till the end of the book.

  44. I also think “insular” is the wrong word but years of economic stagnation would take its toll on the confidence of any major nation. It’s no real surprise to see people becoming more self-interested or planning more for the short-term when there isn’t any strong belief that the future will be better and opportunities plentiful.

    Some quite minor Japanese companies used to send staff to the US for a year’s study or even an MBA course during the bubble. Most didn’t have any idea how they would use these people when they came back – one reason why they often resigned as Aceface notes – but they needed to offer these programmes because it helped them recruit good college graduates in an intensely competitive market. That hasn’t been an issue for years.

  45. Well, to be pedantic, “insular” technically means “pertaining to islands”, which Japan certainly is…

  46. bryce

    “As academics in the U.S. decreasingly turn away from Japan, there may well be less ability for profs in Japan to send promising young students to their friends in the States.”

    why do you think this is the case? (btw, you probably meant INcreasingly)

    from my experience, exchange between J and the west within the academics has never been extensive.

  47. In Japanese studies areas it is very common for Japanese scholars to come over for talks or sabbatical terms.

    I think that there is quite a bit of exchange in the hard sciences as well. I am consistently surprised by how many science (and math) guys have done time in Japan.

  48. >exchange between J and the west within the academics has never been extensive

    Maybe not, but the point is that there are even fewer of them, particularly in the policy world.

    One of the reasons might also be that American policy scholarship has shied away from area studies in recent years. An intimate knowledge of the workings of a particular polity is not considered “scientific” enough, apparently. Japanese grad students do tend to trade off on their knowledge of Japan, so they may be more reluctant to come to the States.

  49. “By the way, does anybody but Glen Fukushima believe that Japan is growing increasingly insular?”

    I had lunch at a kebab stand run by a turk and head to a watch shop where many Chinese were flocking to buy second hand Rolex.I got back home with christmas present for Mongolians and now posting a comment replying to a Kiwi.

    I dunno,Bryce.All I feel is Mr.Fukushima and Airbus Japan need to think twice about whether Japanese have really gone insular.


  50. Why make such a foolish choice!
    One of the very reasons why they suck at English

  51. That Washington Post article sets up an assumption that foreign students go to the US, return to their home countries, and use their American educations to give China or India or wherever a competitive edge.

    How many Chinese who receive PhDs in the US are still there 5 years after graduation? 92% by 2007 figures. 85% for India. What is being pitched as a competitive advantage by the WPost comes off (at least partly) as brain drain.

    The emigration attraction isn’t there for most Japanese students and the article ends up comparing apple ambitions with orange ambitions.

    Something else missing from the analysis – the Japanese numbers downtick also corresponds well with the popping of the MBA bubble.

    The lamest thing about the WPost article, however, is the America-centrism. The decline in the number of students studying in the United States has taken place in a period in which the number studying in China (twenty-fold increase in 15 years), England, Australia and Canada (more than doubled 2000-2005) has increased steadily. A number of factors can explain this – diversification of Japanese global gaze, 911 jitters, etc. It could simply be that ambitious Japanese students prefer China experience to Harvard. Perhaps wisely.

  52. Three off topic things –
    – 90 minute “Attack of the Clones” review is up, found out about the first one through MF regular Twittering
    – Toyota US sales for March up 40% from March 2009 (WTF!? I know they are discounting, but still….)
    – And most importantly – warmest congrats to Joe

  53. That article is a major fail. If the reporter had read MF he would have known that MORE Japanese students are going abroad than ever, just not to the US. So much for that whole “generation of grass eaters” theory.

  54. “I am a grass-eater,” Otani said wistfully, using an in-vogue expression for a person who avoids stress, controls risk and grazes contentedly in home pastures. Once a voracious consumer of American higher education, Japan is becoming a nation of grass-eaters.”

    One of the following statements concerning ‘grass-eaters’ must now be true:
    1. Takuya Otani is not using 草食系男子 correctly
    2. Blaine Harden is not interpreting 草食系男子 correctly
    3. I am very unclear on what 草食系男子 really means…

  55. “So much for that whole “generation of grass eaters” theory.”

    Yeah,the theory also excludes the conventional wisdom that”The grass is always greener on the other side”

  56. Ahh, nicely done.

    The theory is actually based on the philosophy of Tom Jones, who stipulated that it is good to touch the green green grass of home.

    You may find Tom Jones’ thinking to be fairly esoteric, but in this day and age, I assure you *it’s not unusual*.

    (chorus of boos)

  57. Commenters here have done a good job of identifying some of the factors behind this trend which are not addressed in the Asahi or WaPo articles. There are also good points about the dangers of drawing unsupported conclusions from the data. I wonder, though, whether we are in danger of failing to draw any conclusions.

    Do we think there are no useful observations we can make about the implications of the trend? If we agree it isn’t evidence of Japan turning inwards, what might it mean? And here, I’m not asking about reasons for the trend (the weak economy, poor past experience with US education, more interest in non-US institutions etc.) but how we think it will affect Japan going forward.

    Specifically, on the comparisons with China and Korea, is this indeed a future competitive disadvantage or is it meaningless? Do we think Japan would benefit from having greater numbers in higher education overseas or is it the case that the country is protected from a potential brain drain?

  58. Brought up as a son of expat and having gone to a highschool where entire school is packed with Kikoku Shijos,I can say with confidence that Japan wan’t particulary outward-looking compare to today.

    I have to ask,on the comparisons with China and Korea,Should Japan be compared with these countries in this regardjust because Japan is located in East Asia? Or should Japan be compared with nations like France,UK and Germany that belongs to G7?

    Since I’m neither Chinese nor Korean,I can’t define the inner motivation of those who chose to go to the university in the U.S despite the enormous high education fees.However,I don’t think the primal motivation is cosmopolitanism.

    Here in Japan the best ticket to the top companies is to go to Todai and not Harvard.Not that to say Todai is better than Harvard,but it certainly is cheaper.
    Added to that,with less youth population than twenty years ago,it is way much easier to pass the entrance exams due to competition.

    In terms of international competition,J companies are hiring more locals in every corners of the world.If we want someone from Harvard,he or she doesn’t necessary to be a Japanese.

  59. “but how we think it will affect Japan going forward”

    This is an excellent question. I wish that I had the time to do some serious research on this subject (at the very least, there are more stats to be gone over and piles of books in Japanese with ryugakusei testimonies for the quantitative side).

    On the personal level, I know a bunch of Japanese who have studied in “alternative” Western countries and the story typically tends to be the same – more laid back, it is the English and the analytical skills that matter in the end, not the America-centered connects that you make at an Ivy, chance to study French as well, etc.

    For academics, the Ivy undergrad is simply not needed – undergrad at a Japanese university, followed by an MA and PhD at a Western one is fine for breaking into Western academia. Nobody cares where the first degree comes from – it really only matters in terms of admissions for your second degree, etc.

    As for what this means for Japan going forward, my gut feeling is – not much. An innovative entrepreneur is worth far more than a national in Harvard (especially considering that his/her reason for being there in the first place may be to never have to go back home) and the key for Japan seems to rest more with successfully integrating foreign hires and their ideas and ambitions rather than simply shipping kids out to one of the various Cambridges. This question really doesn’t matter at all if Japanese companies are simply hiring those Indian university grads (or better yet, the brilliant ones who didn’t get to go and will produce as much while they work for less).

  60. Dujarric really ran with that whole “Japanese insularity as Berlin Wall metaphor” sounds kind of familiar…

  61. “Japan is the only major developed nation where almost none of the men and women of influence — in the realm of ideas, business or government — are from foreign backgrounds”

    Dujarric seems to be saying what he believes on “insular Japan”but without any factual backups.
    Every single Japanese PM of this century(Koizumi,Abe,Fukuda,Aso and Hatoyama) either had studied or worked abroad.Not to say about other ministers and politicians.Japanese elite are more educated abroad than ever before.
    I also can’t name a single business leader who doesn’t have foreign experience either.

    Fukushima’s JT piece seems to be the recycle of what he wrote for ToyoKeizai mag.

    Just give me one goddamn good reason why we send our kids to the country where most of the resident don’t even have passports and pay the triple or even quadruple for it.
    What Japan needs now is to indentify the real cure and the placebo with in the priscription given by Japan hands.

  62. “Japan is the only major developed nation where almost none of the men and women of influence — in the realm of ideas, business or government — are from foreign backgrounds.”

    So, the CEO’s of Nissan and Sony, and the ethnic Korean US educated founder of Softbank don’t count as “men of influence”?

  63. I agree with Japan needs more foreign talent.But that can be achieved by having people to come over,or allowing foreign corporation to buy J firms.

    Anyway,Japan had experienced more of both during “the lost decade” than the bubble years.

  64. Yeah. The accusation that Japan is getting more insular because less of them go to the US sounds to me like the same kind of whining you hear from a dude complaining about what’s wrong with some “bitch” who won’t go out with him – well maybe he’s the problem.

  65. Indeed. The messed up thing is that the best US universities really are the best in the world, but no undergraduate education is worth $100,000 debt.

    One of my students is going to a top 5 US school with a full scholarship for his PhD. For his BA, he lived with his parents and paid a total of $6000 tuition BEFORE scholarships.

    Huge problem with for profit schools in the US as well – a very good Frontline doco about them – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/collegeinc/

    Basically, instead of going into the three strong areas of Amerian universities – pure research, job training (engineering, management, law), and critical humanities and social sciences – much of the money that the government has set aside for higher ed is being soaked up by universities with questionable standards in the form of loans. Talk of recruiters handing out $75,000 student loan applications in homeless shelters and drug rehab clinics and producing drop out and loan default rates up four or five times higher than traditional schools. The government ends up underwriting loans and paying straight into the profits of McColleges. One also has to wonder what percentage of these growing foreign student numbers in the US that are held against Japan in that slate of recent articles are at schools in accreditation limbo where students can flat out buy degrees to bring back home to fool people or as a green card ticket.

  66. Yeah I saw that Frontline show a couple of weeks ago and was suitably disturbed.

    Now there’s an extension of that I hadn’t heard of before that REALLY sounds like a scam – virtual charters schools. That is, elementary/middle/high schools that are similarly online only, but funded with taxpayer money at the same level per student as real schools. I can’t see how this is possibly a good idea.


  67. Online charter schools would be good only if it can sneak some knowledge of evolution and basic science to all those home-schooled kids.

    WalMart is oh-so altruistically encouraging its employees to get online degrees:


    Weirdly the article doesn’t mention all the bullshit scammy aspects of online education, but it did have this gem:

    “The employees clapped and nodded as Mr. Castro-Wright explained the program (though cheers seemed to be louder earlier, when Mr. Castro-Wright said that gas prices finally seemed to be dropping).”

  68. Well, it’s not like all online degrees are bad. I know plenty of people who have gotten/are getting online degrees from real public schools that mainly serve students in person. Big difference between those and private for-profit online schools though.

  69. Continuing to necro-post, here’s some related news from Britain:

    Student immigration levels unsustainable, says minister

    “The number of foreign students let into the UK is ‘unsustainable’, immigration minister Damian Green will say…The Home Office study tracked non-EU migrants who came to the UK in 2004. The largest group – some 185,000 people – were students, and 21% were still in the country five years later…This, together with an increasing number of new overseas students, has led Mr Green to make reform of the student immigration route a priority…

    “…He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t want to interfere with the success stories of our universities.’ But he said there was a need to examine closely sub-degree courses and the reasons for students remaining in the UK. Mr Green said: ‘Why are they staying on? What are they staying on to do?'”

    This ought to be interesting for his cabinet colleague Jeremy Hunt. Hunt, who taught English in Japan, owns Hotcourses, Britain’s largest guide to educational courses. The company was originally established to help Japanese students find university places in Britain. It now mainly helps British students find courses locally and abroad but still has a significant interest in overseas students.

    I don’t know what current Japanese student numbers are in Britain. 10 years ago, one study estimated them to comprise 40% of the UK’s Japanese population of 50,000 but both those figures will have changed.

  70. As well as today’s news from Britain above, there’s this report in Japan:

    New financial assistance program to encourage more students to study abroad


    Adamu mentioned above that “MORE Japanese students are going abroad than ever” and I think there may have been a source to that claim elsewhere on Mutant Frog. This is what the Mainichi article says, however:

    “According to the ministry, the number of university students studying abroad had been on the increase until around 1999, but has since declined to an annual 80,000 or so.”


  71. That quote is referring specifically to “university students studying abroad,” which aside from being vague in a number of ways, definitely also doesn’t include many other kinds of students. For example, I have no idea if their definition includes Japanese nationals who are enrolled as university students overseas without an affiliation in Japan, or whether it includes graduate students at all. It almost certainly doesn’t include those enrolled in language schools, and probably doesn’t include those attending technical or arts courses that aren’t university degrees. I can’t recall where the data you’re referring to on the overall number of students going abroad, but it’s not necessarily a contradiction considering the possible differences in definition.

    That said, this proposal is specifically aimed at increasing the number of Japanese university students (by which I mean those attending university in Japan, not merely Japanese nationals) sounds like it might be a good idea. If the claims made about students who spend time abroad becoming objectively more productive researchers are true (which sounds likely to me) then such a program probably represents a genuinely profitable investment in Japan’s future.

  72. “necessarily a contradiction considering the possible differences in definition.”

    I recall looking up those stats (unfortunately no time now to grab them again) and it is the number of grad students and program enrolled undergrad students that has gone up while short term exchange, etc. may be flat.

    In my opinion, it is the number of students enrolled in foreign grad programs that is the figure to watch if we want to measure ambition and exchange.

  73. Several reports touching on this matter have cropped once again following the release of a report which appears to have used OECD data to come up with some totals.

    Here’s the Yomuri:

    “The number of Japanese choosing to study abroad has been on the slide since peaking in 2004, according to education ministry data, and experts say the trend is a reflection of how tough the job market is in Japan for university graduates.

    “About 67,000 Japanese studied abroad in 2008, a decline of 11 percent from the previous year, according to an Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry survey released Wednesday.

    “The figure matches the level seen around the year 2000, and is 20 percent below the all-time high marked in 2004, according to the survey, which is the first of its kind to be released by the ministry…

    “…In the 1990s, due in part to the strength of the yen, the number of Japanese studying overseas increased steadily, eventually peaking in 2004 at 82,945. In 2008 the total was down to 66,833, about 8,300 fewer than the year before.

    “The United States was the most popular destination for Japanese students in 2008, with 29,264 studying there, but the figure was down 13.9 percent from the previous year. The number of students heading to Britain and China decreased 21.7 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.”


    In Britain, the government recently approved a controversial bill to increase university tuition fees in England (the Scots and Welsh will not adopt the measure). This led the FT to suggest that students may well explore overseas options more readily. In 2009, we apparently had around 26,000 students overseas (France had 63,000 and Germany had 86,000). The twist is that the FT argues students may choose UK university overseas campuses in places like Malaysia and China where they can earn the same qualification at a lower price combined with lower living expenses.

  74. Whenever Greg Clark’s affiliation with Akita International University has come up, I’ve generally only heard poor things about the place, particularly in regard to employment contracts for foreign academics. (Which has been mentioned on MF elsewhere).

    Well, it seems it’s getting at least one thing right. The Nikkei Business says graduates of Greg Clark’s AIU are favourites with employers these days (“就職率100%の大学”) and the main reason is allegedly the international character of the place.


  75. Hey, it’s got “International” right there in the name? What
    more could you need? On a related note, did you see the news about
    Kyodai starting a vaguely defined 5-year “leadership” graduate
    school, conducted entirely in English?
    http://www.asahi.com/national/update/1227/OSK201012270075.html They
    will apparently be constructing a new dormitory for it, which many
    think is part of their long-term plan to demolish the historic but
    dingy Yoshida-ryo.

  76. And like I’ve been saying,Akita International University doesn’t look too bad in J-standard.
    Over at NBR Japan-US discussion,there was an Aussie woman bitching about how xenophobic her school in Nagoya was.I had to laugh since that was Nanzan and the current dean is a German.

    I have to ask,is there any J university with good job contract?
    As I learned from various twitter friends of mine,seemingly the job contracts on lecturers are poor BOTH Japanese and foreigners.

    Also reminds me of my school years when Ivan P.Hall was a visiting prof at Keio back in early 90’s.Buddy of mine was a student.And he wasn’t surprised when Hall wrote “Cartel of Minds” after he lost jobs both at Gakushin and Tsukuba.”Gaijin profs are Okay” my buddy says,”But they don’t seem to be neither academically productive nor interested in doing management jobs at the faculty.And they can’t help you finding jobs.So why hire them?All is in the name of “Internationalization””.

  77. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/education/20adjunct.html

    Job contracts for temp lecturers are garbage everywhere and these sorts of positions are an overwhelming majority in language study areas. I know Spanish teachers who would collapse with tears of joy were they offered what Hall calls slave contracts (typically 3 years non renewable but with close to pay parity and benefits).

  78. The Economist had a piece in its holiday issue called “The Disposable Academic,” which ought to confirm the notion that academia is objectively a crappy career choice in most places — though it can be a very gratifying one if you really love your subject area.

  79. That Economist piece is very good.

    However, academic is an objectively crappy career like “Rock Star” is an objectively crappy career. There are many people who would love that lifestyle, but only a tiny few actually make it (far fewer than in academia) – many of those who do not will end up burned out and in the end, have sacrificed a great deal of income to chase a dream. The same logic that “Freakonomics” applied to crack dealers can be essentially be applied to academics – a few make it, but those who do not end up spending years making less than minimum wage.

    For those who do make it, however, you end up in a career (where if you include tax free research money that you spend on yourself personally – books, travel, etc.) that can have you breaking six figures at 35, that offers five months off a year for research or “professional development”, that lets you work at home, that lets you work 4 hours one week if you put in 60 the next, a one year sabbatical each seven years, the list goes on and on. I don’t think it is difficult to see why people chase it, even if they know the odds. Most importantly, pieces like the Economist one generalize stats across all academic disciplines. In some areas (contemporary China, for example) most good grads will get jobs and in others (Victorian lit, Civil War history, Classics) it will be more like 1 in 7. Asian area fields usually do pretty well.

    In any case, academia is most crappy for adjunct lecturers – the people who don’t make it to the tenure rank jobs. The academic career path mirrors business and other professional careers in important ways – you get the BA, the professional degree (MA), the PhD is like the apprenticeship (where you teach, do your first major research project) or entry level in other professional careers, and when you become a professor, you are essentially junior management (running a bunch of TAs, managing budgets, doing curriculum, hiring lecturers, grad student admissions, program marketing). The big difference is that many people PAY for the apprenticeship stage in academia and never make it to management while in the “real world” you would likely be getting raises and valuable, transferable experience during that time.

    This also fits with the “dilemma” of foreign lecturers in Japan – universities everywhere have figured out that junior lecturers and assistants are easy to cycle through at $15,000 a year and will hire a bare minimum of profs to supervise them and run the system. This is the logic of business and complaining about it hasn’t gotten academics anywhere. I am not sure that we can expect this to change any more than we can expect McDonalds to make every last employee a manager at $40,000 a year. Aside from a few hot shot researchers with mega funding and scores of assistants, most profs are “useful” to the institution in so much as they can act as managers (while doing research evenings, weekends, and during the term breaks). As Aceface mentions above, the major question about foreign lecturers at Japanese universities, especially in ESL, isn’t whether short term contracts are “fair”, but how many management level positions can these parts of Japanese universities support. I imagine that it is relatively few and that the foreigners who do end up in these positions will have near native level Japanese, allowing them to do administrative work above the department level. This is exactly how it has worked at Akita. One of the arguments that I constantly see about Japanese employment culture is that the tendency to carry people (and give them huge seniority-based wages) who are doing entry level work for decades despite the fact that they do not add to their skill set or make themselves indispensable by taking on more advanced administrative duties holds everything back. In universities, if teaching is all that you can do, the hammer of neo-liberalism will come down. Smaller classes equals a better student experience and an experienced teacher with 20 years experience making $60,000 is not worth as much to students or the institution as 3 rookies making $20,000 each (imagine doing business English in a class of 15 vs. a class of 45). They can make themselves worth $60,000 (and permanent) by managing those lecturers, however.

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