While Japan can no longer claim the lowest birth rate in the world, its rate of 1.44 births per woman is a full point below the global average. The famously insular nation is now taking radical steps to rectify issues, like labour shortages, that result from this. In addition to initiatives like state-sponsored singles nights, it is widening access for international students.
To entice them, it has relaxed its rules on which fields foreign graduates can work in. Now, they can work in any field – not just the one related to what they studied – provided they earn at least three million yen (around AUD$36,000) per annum. This is roughly the average private sector salary for a junior employee. A comparable program has been initiated for vocational graduates.
The rub? Such roles are Japanese-speaking. Further, despite the country’s soft power heft, in higher education, its reputation, at least recently, is one of scandal. This may cloud the relatively good performance of its universities: two featured in the top 50, and four in the top 100 of the latest QS global rankings. In a different ranking – Times Higher Education’s – Japan eclipsed the UK as the second most represented country.
Whether because of these reasons, formerly restrictive visas, or perhaps another, insidious cause, Japan hasn’t been attracting the number of international graduates it had hoped for. In 2015, for example, the government wanted half of all international graduates to stay in the country. Only 8,367 – 35 per cent – did.
Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), is well-placed to comment on this due to his history with Japan. After first venturing there as a high school exchange student, he subsequently worked there for two years, for a logistics company. Despite speaking the language and the company wanting him to remain there, he left because he “was always treated as a foreigner”.
Nevertheless, the Japanese government is hoping its current visa changes will change future Honeywoods’ minds. Similar schemes to the one it is implementing, known as ‘two step’ migration pathways (as applicants gained a temporary, student visa, then a permanent work-related one) have been successful in Australia and Canada.
Making things easier still, Japan has broadened its ‘designated activities’ visa to include job seeking by international students for up to two years. Also, it expanded eligibility for its ‘highly-skilled professional’ visa, thereby allowing more graduates to apply for it.
The suite of changes has already resulted in a surge in international students. Honeywood said pilot trials of the changes have led to vast numbers of Vietnamese students, enticed by the residency option, moving there. Though “a lot of the attraction … is at the paraprofessional, skills level. Whether this then percolates into higher education in large numbers is yet to be determined,” he said.
If it does, Honeywood is concerned for Australia: “This is a real disruptive element for Australian universities, because Vietnam is always in our top three or four source countries. Vietnamese students may no longer come to Australia to study English if they’re looking for an employability outcome.”
Japan hopes to host 300,000 international students by 2020.Do you have an idea for a story?
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