Recent trends in learning abroad in the context of a changing Japanese economy and higher education situation

Hiroshi Ota and Yukiko Shimmi

Japanese government’s policies on study abroad

During the post-war period, the central focus of the Japanese government’s internationalisation policy was on attracting international students to come and study in Japan. However, with the decline, from the late 2000s, of the number of Japanese students studying abroad, the government (under the Abe administration) started prioritising the promotion of outbound mobility in order to foster a globally minded workforce for Japanese companies, leading to a revitalization of Japanese economy. Until that point, studying abroad had been mainly considered as a private choice, and governmental support for Japanese students to study abroad had been limited. In its effort to promote study abroad, first, the Japanese government set a numerical target of raising the number of Japanese studying abroad to 120,000 by 2020 under the Japan Revitalisation Strategy (Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, 2013). Second, the government increased scholarships available for individual students, to expand the range of study abroad participants, and provided competitive funds for universities to develop outbound mobility programs and support systems in order to broaden the range of study abroad options.

With respect to scholarships, in 2014, the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) significantly increased (more than twofold) the budget for JASSO (Japan Student Services Organisation) study abroad scholarships,1 which are targeted at students enrolled at Japanese higher education institutions who study abroad for less than one year (see Figure 6.1). Currently, this scholarship can be granted to students who participate in one of their university’s study abroad programs with a duration of eight days to one year. The number of recipients dramatically increased from 627 in 2008 to 21,000 in 2018 (Minami, 2018). Moreover, a small number of scholarships for studying abroad for a degree were added within the JASSO scholarship programs; 252 scholarships to study abroad for postgraduate degrees and 78 for undergraduate degrees were provided in 2018 (Minami, 2018). In addition, in 2014,

MEXT budget for study abroad scholarships

Figure 6.1 MEXT budget for study abroad scholarships.

Source: MEXT (2018).

the government established another scholarship program called Tobitate! (Leap for Tomorrow) Young Ambassador Program (A Public-Private Partnership Encouraging Students Studying Abroad),2 with funding from both the government and private companies. Tobitate! scholarships are intended for students who study abroad for periods varying from 28 days to two years. By 2017, 3000 students of universities and colleges had studied abroad with Tobitate! scholarships (Minami, 2018).

Regarding competitive funds for universities, since 2011, the Inter-University Exchange Project has provided funds for two-way exchanges between Japan and regions that are specified each year. Through this scheme, by 2017 the number of Japanese students who had studied abroad reached 14,700, while the number of international students who had studied in Japan reached 15,200 (Minami, 2018; Ota, 2018). In addition, from 2012 to 2016, the Go Global Japan Project provided funds to 42 universities to develop study abroad programs for students to acquire competencies for the new global society. The aim of recipient universities was to send 58,500 students abroad through this project. Other programs—such as the Top Global University Project, started in 2014—also aim to stimulate Japanese students to study abroad (Horio, 2017; Ota, 2018; see Table 6.1).

Trends in Japanese students studying abroad

Due to these policy initiatives, short-term study abroad participants during university study are rapidly increasing. The number of short-term study abroad students, which was around 36,300 in 2009, rose to 96,600 by 2016 - more than

Table 6.1 Government’s policy initiatives for outbound mobility with numerical targets


















Japan Revitalization Strategy (Doubling the number of study abroad students)

Outbound: 120.000 in total

Inter-University Exchange Project (Two-way mobility)


13 programs

Outbound: 1.687; Inbound: 1.867

North America and EU

12 programs

Outbound: 2.484; Inbound



14 programs

Outbound: 3,045: Inbound: 3.631



7 programs

Outbound 746. Inbound: 759


5 programs

Outbound: 69. Inbound: 61

Russia and India

9 programs

Outbound: 1.086; Inbound: 1.130

Latin America & the Caribbean, and Turkey

11 programs

Outbound: 1.159: Inbound: 1.295


25 programs

Outbound. 3.279. Inbound: 3.789

Russia and India

9 programs

Outbound 1.157; inbound: 1.084


Go Global Japan (Outbound mobility)

TypoA(UrwcrKy-wOc) tlurwb TypoB(Facuty spoerfc) 31 uws; OulPoynO 53.000_


Top Global University Project (Comprehensive internationalization)





op Type Tracbo

): 13 ur Type)

nersiti 24 uni



Source: As cited in Ota, 2018, p. 97 and modified by the authors.


  • 1. CAMPUS Asia stands for Collective Action for Mobility Program of University Students in Asia and is a trilateral student exchange program run by China, Japan, and Korea, as the East Asian version of the Erasmus Programme in Europe.
  • 2. AIMS stands for ASEAN International Mobility for Students Program and is a government supported multilateral educational program in the ASEAN region, launched in 2010 by coordinated efforts of Malaysia, Indonesia.Thailand, and the current members, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Japan.
  • 3. ICI-ECP (Industrialised Countries Instrument - Education Cooperation Programme) refers to EU cooperation with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea in the field of higher education and vocational education and training.

double (see Figure 6.2). The number of those students participating in short-term study abroad programs, lasting from one week up to one month, in particular, grew significantly, reaching 60,100, or 62% of the total, in 2016, (more than tripled from 16,800 in 2009 to 60,100 in 2016). Also, those studying abroad for less than six months accounted for 82% of the total in 2016 (MEXT, 2017).

On the other hand, long-term, mainly degree-seeking, study abroad numbers peaked at 83,000 students in 2004 and had fallen by 35% to 54,600 in 2015 (see Figure 6.3; MEXT, 2017). Study abroad by Japanese students is shifting from study abroad for a degree to study abroad for credits (McCrostie, 2017). This reflects a growing global trend among college students, especially in developed countries (Institute of International Education, 2017; Universities UK International, 2018; Australian Government-Department of Education and Training, 2018).

Although those aforementioned study abroad scholarships for students and funds for higher education institutions were not meant for this in particular, universities specifically increased opportunities for short-term (up to one month) programs abroad, because, for a number of reasons, they appear to be preferred by Japanese students. First, the short duration of the program prevents time conflicts with other activities, such as looking for graduate positions

Short-term study abroad students

Figure 6.2 Short-term study abroad students.

Source: JASSO (2017).

Note:This graph shows the numbers of students enrolled at Japanese higher education institutions who study abroad.The JASSO collects data from the sending Japanese institutions.

at Japanese companies, typically conducted during a certain period in the year; preparing for national qualification examinations; and participating in extracurricular activities, such as club activities. Second, short-term study abroad programs tend to require lower participation fees than longer programs. Third, short-term programs abroad that focus on foreign language learning at the basic level are popular among Japanese students because many students do not have sufficient foreign language skills to participate in longer exchange programs where they are required to take courses at partner universities together with local students.

The recent government support has been effective in increasing the number of students studying abroad for at least short-term (up to one month) programs; in comparison, the number of participants in longer-term programs has not increased as much. Moreover, although participating in short-term study abroad programs can be a step for “inward-looking”3 students towards becoming more open to other cultures (Bradford, 2015), short-term study abroad programs are considered too short to enhance the students’ foreign language and cross- cultural competencies (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2017), compared to longer-term programs in Japan where degree-seeking study abroad

Long-term stud/ abroad students

Figure 6.3 Long-term stud/ abroad students.

Source: MEXT (2017).

Note: The MEXT compiles data from host countries, such as HE Open Doors,and from international organisations, such as OECD Education at a Glance and UNESCO Global Education Digest.Those original data count mainly long-term international students based on their student visas.

was the norm before. Similar observations have been made in the United States and other countries (Dwyer, 2004a; Kehl & Morris, 2008).

Study abroad and its impact on career development

Although studies on the relationship between study abroad experiences and career/employability among Japanese students are limited, previous studies indicate that many Japanese students seem to perceive that study abroad experience is beneficial for developing their career. The JASSO (2012) study, for example, showed in a survey of 1506 individuals who studied abroad, 61.8% of respondents answered that their study abroad experiences were helpful in deciding their career path and advancing through their job-hunting processes.

Later, as the key members of the three-year research project (2013-2015), the authors of this chapter conducted a large-scale, retrospective online survey of the long-term impact of study abroad on career development and life in 2015.4 People who had studied abroad for three months or more were surveyed on a variety of topics, including their experiences and the improvement in their abilities while studying abroad, the effects on their subsequent employment and careers, changes in their values and behaviours, and degree of satisfaction with life. In addition, in order to act as a control group for comparison, people who had not studied abroad were also surveyed on their experiences and the improvement in their abilities while studying in undergraduate and/or graduate programs in Japan, and on their subsequent careers. For the purpose of comparison between those who studied abroad and those who did not, the research project recruited survey participants of these two types with the similar ratios of the four age groups, such as 50s or older, 40s, 30s, and 20s.

According to the survey results, those respondents who studied abroad for three months or more (n = 4489) perceived the higher impact of their study experiences on all the 10 items5 related to the career development than those who did not go abroad (n = 1298) (Shimmi, Ota, Watabe, & Akiba, 2016).

By using the same dataset, Shimmi, Akiba, Ota, and Yokota (2017) examined the differences in current position and annual income as well as the above- mentioned 10 items related to the impact on the career development among three groups (see Table 6.2). These groups are (1) those who studied abroad for an undergraduate degree (Undergraduate degree studied abroad, n = 416), (2) those who studied abroad for credits/other purpose at the undergraduate level (Undergraduate credits studied abroad, n = 757), and (3) those who obtained an undergraduate degree from a Japanese university without study abroad experience (Undergraduate degree studied in Japan, n = 710).6 As Table 6.2 shows, the category “Undergraduate degree studied abroad” had both the highest annual income (5.47 million yen) and the highest percentage (32.5%) of in management roles,7 followed by the “Undergraduate credits studied abroad” (27.7% and 4.79 million yen) and the “Undergraduate degree studied in Japan” (17.5% and 4.49 million yen). Similarly, as Figure 6.4 indicates, the “Undergraduate degree abroad ” perceived the highest impact of their study experiences on all the 10 items concerned with the career development, followed by the “Undergraduate credits studied abroad” and “Undergraduate degree studied in Japan.” The differences in the perceived impact on the career development among these three groups were statistically significant, analysing their weighted average efficiencies with the one-way analysis of variance (p c.OOl). In short, those results can be said to show that study abroad experiences have a positive impact on the career development and are meaningfully related to career success. Also, it can be inferred that studying abroad for a degree gives more positive influence on, and success in, the career path than studying abroad for credits at the undergraduate level.

Subsequently, using the same dataset, Shimmi, Yonezawa, and Akiba (2018) discussed that people who studied abroad for a graduate degree tend to report a higher impact on career-related aspects, both on the current annual income and position (management roles), than those who studied abroad for an undergraduate degree, as Table 6.3 and 6.4 show. Also, both foreign undergraduate and graduate degrees led to a higher impact on the annual income across all age groups and current position (employed by foreign companies8 and the management roles) than their counterparts who had not studied abroad (domestic

Undergraduate degree studied abroad (n = 416)

Undergraduate credits studied abroad (n = 757)

Undergraduate degree studied in Japan (n = 710)

Current Annual Income (m = million)

5.47m yen

4.79m yen

4.49m yen

Current Position

Executive/board member class




Managerial class including heads of departments/sections, managers, professors, etc.




General staff class including assistant professors, etc.




Part-time/contract staff









SOs or older

56 (13.5%)

89 (1 1.8%)

144 (20.3%)


175 (42.1%)

208 (27.5%)

244 (34.4%)


145 (34.9%)

264 (34.9%)

227 (32.0%)


40 (9.6%)

196 (25.9%)

95 (13.4%)

Source: Shimmi, Akiba, Ota, and Yokota (2017).


  • 1. Homemakers and unemployed were excluded for the current annual income.
  • 2. PPP for GDP:US$1 =JPY 106 (OECD 20IS), I million yen = US$9,433.

Undergraduate degree studied abroad (n = 416) (1)

Undergraduate degree studied in Japan (n = 710) (2)

Graduate degree studied abroad (n = 353) (3)

Graduate degree studied in Japan (n = 528) (4)

Income gap in undergraduate level (1) / (2)

Income gap in graduate level (3) / (4)

Income gap in academic level (3) 1(1)


5.47m yen

4.49m yen

7.93m yen

5.53m yen




50s or older

6.54m yen

6.08m yen

9.94m yen

8.06m yen





5.64m yen

4.71 m yen

8.26m yen

6.55m yen





5.40m yen

3.89m yen

6.43m yen

4.68m yen




20s or younger

3.50m yen

2.91m yen

3.73m yen

3.51m yen




Source: Shimmi, Yonezawa, and Akiba (2018).


  • 1. Homemakers and unemployed were excluded for the current annual income.
  • 2. PPP for GDP:US$1 = JPY 106 (OECD 20IS), I million yen = US$9,433.
Self-evaluated career impact

Figure 6.4 Self-evaluated career impact.

Source: Shimmi, Akiba, Ota, andYokota (2017).

degrees holders). These results indicate that study abroad experiences are felt by graduates (foreign degree holders) to have an ongoing positive influence on their career.

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