Japan hopes to halt slide in British JET numbers

Eight-year decline in candidates for teaching, cultural exchange program alarms diplomats William Hollingworth

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — Japanese diplomats say they are working hard to stop the decline in the number of British participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

They recognize the concerns of the U.K.-Japan 21st Century Group, which recently highlighted the drop in the number of British JET participants since 2001, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the overall total.

The body, which represents leading academics, politicians and businesspeople from both countries and meets annually, is calling on Japan to reverse the trend, arguing it could damage bilateral relations in the long term.

“I think it’s very bad news if there is a long-term decline in the numbers going both ways,” said John Boyd, a senior member of the group, reflecting concern also at the fall in the number of Japanese students coming to Britain. “Personally, I would very much like to see public subsidy and private-sector inducement to make sure the numbers don’t go down any further.”

Each year, the Japanese government recruits hundreds of young people on the JET scheme to work as English instructors for up to five years in schools. A smaller number also work as coordinators for international relations in local town halls and some act as sports assistants.

As well as providing education, the idea behind the project is to foster cultural relations between Japan and the 43 countries that send teachers. Originally, the scheme focused on native English language speakers but now includes participants from all over the world.

British participants in the JET program peaked in 2001 at 1,405, representing 22 percent of the total, but has fallen since then to 8 percent.

Due to the tighter financial situation in Japan, prefectures have taken on fewer JET hires, but the number of U.S. participants has nonetheless increased over the last nine years with the proportion of Americans in the program also rising.

Daisuke Tsuchiya, deputy director of the Japan Information and Cultural Center at the Japanese Embassy in London, denied the decline in numbers was deliberate. He said Japan remains 100 percent committed to the scheme and recruiting British teachers.

Each year, the program is promoted in British universities and officials then select candidates they think will be suitable for working in Japanese schools, regardless of whether they can actually speak any Japanese. The embassy looks for applicants with an interest in Japan and who have a broad range of skills to offer the youngsters.

There is no set quota for each country and the final numbers depend on the quality of the applicants each year.

Tsuchiya believes the reduction in numbers could be due to the relatively good economic situation in Britain during the last decade, which saw greater competition from companies for new graduates.

This point could be supported by the fact that this summer, when the job market is considered tougher, the number of JET hires from Britain is going up for the first time in nine years. Britain will be sending about 200 new teachers this summer, a 50 percent increase from 2009.

Two sources versed in the JET scheme, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the past decline could also be attributed to the rather “lackluster” recruitment process over the last few years.

They said the embassy has cut back on advertising and is not publicizing the JET scheme to the “best and brightest” graduates.

Tsuchiya admitted the budget used for JET recruiting in Britain is under financial constraint but said the embassy is still going out and promoting the program.

Last year, more than 50 universities in Britain were approached to highlight the scheme and Tsuchiya believes that could have partly contributed to this year’s better figures. They are also liaising with Japanese tutors and career advisers at colleges to advertise the scheme further.