Higher university fees raise concern

Japan’s notoriously expensive education will get more expensive from April. Most of the country’s prestigious private universities will raise their tuition and other fees from April. Of 39 private universities with more than 10,000 undergraduates, at least 13 have said they plan to increase fees, even though they are already extremely high.

Most universities said the increases were intended to make the quality of education better. However, the increases seem aimed more at offsetting costs resulting from the consumption tax hike effective in April. Although college fees, including tuition, enrollment fees and other usage fees are tax-free, universities still have to purchase supplies and deal with many costs that are not tax-free.

The increases, which could range from ¥50,000 to ¥200,000 annually, will add to the burden on families. Some departments, for example in the sciences, may raise fees even more. Some of the increased fees will help support study abroad programs or fund new facilities.

More than likely, though, a large part will go toward covering expanding administration fees. Like universities in other countries where higher education is also expensive, such as the United States, an ever-increasing amount of money benefits students indirectly at best.

If the increase was an investment to make higher learning better, it could be justified. University education can never be made completely cost-efficient, because education is time-consuming and requires many personnel. Some universities are also suffering significant drops in revenue due to a decrease in the number of students.

Universities have continued to raise fees without substantial and significant improvement in the quality of higher education. After the rise in tuition fees this April, students and their families will be paying more for more of the same. An education ministry report in 2010 found that 1.55 million students already had financial difficulties during their school year. Many more are now likely to suffer.

Another reason the increase in fees will have little positive impact is that the central government continues to provide relatively low investment in education compared with other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Overall, Japan spends far less on education than the OECD average, a meager 3.3 percent of GDP and 9.4 percent of total public expenditures — far from enough.

In other countries, students protest immediately when tuition and fees are raised. That is unlikely to happen in Japan, though, where students continue to be worried about job hunting and are unwilling to lose the slight edge a private school’s name seems to add to their resume.

Until the central government decides to curb the rising costs of education and to start investing more in education, we can expect costs to keep on going up.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    “Japan’s notoriously expensive education will get more expensive from April.” I don’t suppose the editorial writer thought to do a little fact checking. Total costs for top US private universities are in the $60-65,000 per year range of which about $40,000 is tuition and fees. The comparable figure for the most prestigious private university in Japan is $12,400 in the first year, less in the second. (Medicine, an undergraduate subject in Japan as in Britain, is more expensive at $36,700). Moreover, the most prestigious universities in the US are predominantly private whereas in Japan, they are predominantly public (national). First year fees for the University of Tokyo (aka Todai) are currently around $5225 per/year.