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Jan 31, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

To allow equal education opportunities across the nation, the Japanese government recently announced a $7.2 billion investment.  The fund will allow eligible, low-income students to receive a free education at national universities, and scholarships to attend private universities and vocational schools.

The move is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal to increase Japan’s productivity by 10 percent in four years. 

In Japan’s current system, private institutions comprise 80 percent of the nation’s schools, and charge students nearly double the cost of attendance at a lower-quality public university.

While Japan scores high marks in their overall education equality, higher education data is skewed. At the university level, financially poorer students do not have the option to attend private universities, and often attend public institutions—which still require them to take out loans.

Japan’s primary provider of student loans—Japan Students Services Organization (JASSO), recently reported that 51 percent of all students depend on some sort of funding—compared to only 31 percent in 2004. 

What does this mean? Low-income students are graduating with a lot of debt, while wealthier students graduate relatively unencumbered by student-loan debt.

Prime Minister Abe aims to eliminate that debt and support low-income students on their new paths as university graduates.

Critics of the program fear that the government’s new plan may be too selective and will benefit a small number of low-income students.  While they agree that offering access to education is critical, even more critical is access to an education that helps future graduates contribute to the world and to the economy in useful ways.

Learn more about studying in Japan.



Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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