Private spending on university education in Japan is high at 67.5%, according to a recent report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on public education investment in 28 member states. The OECD's Education at a Glance 2010 report indicated that the average for all nations was 30.9%, illustrating that in Japan private spending on higher education plays a vital role in supplementing low public funding.
Private funds grew 26% between 2000 and 2007, explained an OECD official in Tokyo, while public spending decreased slightly. The figure for private spending on higher education in South Korea is even higher at 79.3%. The figures are based on the proportion of gross domestic product spent on public education.
Private investment in tertiary education in Japan, according to the OECD report, includes spending by household and other private entities, such as private loans. In Japan, the household expenditures are 51.1% of total expenditures.
The Federation of Japanese Private Colleges and Universities Associations (FJPCUA) said public financial support comprised on average 10% of university budgets and was mostly for scholarships or loans for students. Subsidies for university management and buildings are also available.
The federation said household spending for tuition fees in four-year colleges in humanities was between Yen 1 million to Yen 1.5 million (US$11,725 to $17,585) a year, with science courses starting at Yen 1.5 million.
"Given the current economic recession, the fees paid by parents are high and we worry the trend will bring negative impact on future enrollment," said Makoto Okada at FJPCUA.
Japan's higher education institutions are comprised of four- and two-year colleges as well as specialised schools. There are currently around 1,000 private universities and colleges registered in the country.
The Education Ministry has reported that the number of university-level state scholarships is rising, with 120,000 recipients this year compared to 99,000 in 2005, mostly as a result of family economic difficulties. Interest rates for student loans are below 2%. There is pressure from private universities for an increase in public funding.
Japan's average ratio of public education spending to GDP was 4.8%, with Iceland at the top rank at 7% and Sweden at 6.1%.
The financial difficulties plaguing higher education in Japan were also highlighted in a presentation to the OECD higher education conference held in Paris last month, by Dr Akiyoshi Yonezawa of Tohoku University and Dr Arthur Meerman of Kurume University.
They looked at debates around the internationalisation of higher education at a time of strong domestic financial constraint and the growth of higher education in other Asian countries.
China is poised to replace Japan as the world's second largest economy this year, India is growing its presence in the regional economy and in higher education, and Korea is accelerating pathways for internationalisation, wrote Yonezawa and Meerman.
"Singapore, Qatar and others are racing to become higher education hubs, both for brain gain and for transnational education service provision". At the same time, Australasian higher education is strengthening its position through intensified quality assurance and research excellence, and ASEAN is developing a regional quality assurance framework.
"Japan is struggling to achieve a new, sustainable vision for the future in the face of extreme budgetary constraint," according to Yonezawa and Meerman. There have been budgetary restrictions and confusion, with every area - including higher education and science and technology - becoming potential targets for cuts.
Japan's attitude towards the region is changing and it is looking at collaboration to strengthen the country's development, in a shift they describe as "from dominance to co-development".
This rapidly growing part of the world is moving towards the creation of a regional Asia-Pacific higher education arena through multi-polar initiatives, despite lack of a regional policy consensus - and Japan is keen to be part of it.
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