Student record

Rising dropouts force Japanese to focus on student welfare

The recent surge in student dropouts in Japan has prompted institutions to pay greater attention to the problem despite the country’s historically low attrition rates.

Between April and December 2021, the number of Japanese students leaving higher education without graduating rose to 1,937, a 40% increase from the previous year, according to figures recently released by the ministry. Japanese Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Culture. Technology (MEXT).

Hiroshi Ota, a higher education researcher at Hitotsubashi University, said the recent uptick reinforced the idea that “universities need to figure out how to support student life in the Covid and post-Covid era”.

“Specifically, universities must deal with the loss of dreams and purpose that prevent students from pursuing the career paths they had envisioned,” Prof Ota said.

While the pandemic is most likely to be responsible for the rise in student dropouts — with numbers expected to decline as the pandemic subsides — the issue continues to preoccupy educators, said Noriko Osumi, vice president of Tohoku University and professor of development. neuroscience.

“Increasingly, Japanese universities are paying attention to the well-being of students, which is not only due to Covid-19, but also to the situation in Japan with fewer and fewer children,” said- she said, referring to the country’s declining population.

She said institutions know that “we need to attract students” to keep enrollment numbers steady. Increasingly, this also means tackling school perseverance.

In Tohoku, for example, administrators have rolled out special financial aid for students affected by the pandemic, employing some of them as teaching assistants.

Masayuki Kobayashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Center for Higher Education Research and Development, praised the universities, saying that “many HEIs have launched new financial aid programs to improve the difficulties economic effects caused by Covid-19”.

Among dropout students surveyed by MEXT last year, 30.3% cited lack of motivation to study or a poor adjustment to college life and 19.9% ​​said they struggled to pay fees.

The numbers are reversed from the previous year, when 28.1% of students dropped out due to economic hardship and 20% dropped out due to lack of motivation.

Professor Kobayashi also credited the Japanese government-funded program to help cash-strapped undergraduates, which launched in 2020, with preventing students from dropping out for financial reasons.

“This is a very important program in the history of Japanese student financial aid…we have found that this program improves access for low-income students to higher education,” said- he declared.

Yet he pointed out that in most cases where students do not complete college, there is a “complicated relationship of causes”.

“The MEXT survey asks HEIs to choose only one reason such as mental health, economic hardship, family relationships, etc. But these factors are interrelated,” he said.

Despite the recent increase in the number of college leavers, scholars acknowledge that the share of college dropouts in Japan was still “low” compared to other nations.

Dropouts accounted for 0.06% of all Japanese students. In the UK, 9.4% of full-time students are expected to leave tertiary education before graduating this year, in what has been hailed as a record high.

Professor Osumi attributed this to a combination of low tuition fees and social pressure to stay the course.

“There’s a pressure for students to be ‘like others’, so…leaving college can be a bigger hurdle for most Japanese students,” she said.

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