In March 2010, the Democratic Party of Japan government pushed through the Diet a law to exempt tuition for high school students irrespective of their families’ annual income. The law was based on the idea that society as a whole should support students, who will build the future Japan, whether they are from rich families or from poor families. Under the system, public high schools do not collect tuition from students and about ¥120,000 is provided annually to each student studying at private high schools — the equivalent of public high school tuition.
But on Aug. 27, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which form the current ruling coalition, agreed to introduce an income cap for the tuition exemption and support system. From April 2014, high school students whose families annually earn ¥9.1 million or more will not be able to receive benefits from the system.
This is a bad decision. It will destroy an education policy that has taken root after three years and is supported by parents and educators. It will also cause trouble for local governments and schools, forcing them to change by-laws and computer programs, and to collect tuition from parents who do not wish to cooperate. It is not far-fetched to say that the two parties just want to change the system because it was a legacy of the DPJ government.
In the campaign for the July Upper House election, the LDP said that the current tuition exemption and support system constitutes pork barrel. But its thinking runs counter to the idea that society as a whole should support children irrespective of their families’ financial status. If the party thinks that the system violates the ideal of equality, it should raise the taxes paid by wealthy families rather than exclude their children from the tuition exemption and support system.
The decision by the LDP and Komeito also runs counter to the relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The multilateral treaty calls for the gradual introduction of free education for junior and senior high schools, and colleges and universities. Japan for a long time did not accept the provisions. But Japan finally accepted the provisions in September 2012, 33 years after it ratified the treaty. It is clear that the decision by the LDP and Komeito represents a retreat from the ideal of the provisions.
According to a 2013 report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan’s public outlays for educational organizations accounted for only 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product in 2010, lower than the average 5.4 percent for OECD member countries and the lowest among 30 member countries whose data are mutually comparable. Japan occupied the lowest position for three consecutive years.
The LDP and Komeito plan to use the money saved by the introduction of an income cap to increase tuition support for private school students and to give grants for students from poor families. Instead of this approach, they should seriously consider increasing the education budget itself.