In a bid to stop the dramatic decline in Japanese studying in the United States, representatives of U.S. colleges and universities met Wednesday with education minister Ryu Shionoya to demand that Japan improve efforts to promote study abroad.

After peaking at 47,000 in 1997, the number of Japanese studying in the U.S. has dropped nearly 30 percent to 34,000 as of 2007, according to the Institute of International Education, a U.S. group that promotes study abroad. This leaves Japan fourth behind India, China and South Korea, which had 94,500, 81,000, and 69,000 students, respectively, studying in the U.S.

Shionoya said this number has to be raised.

“Currently only 80,000 Japanese students go abroad every year,” Shionoya said at the Education, Culture, Sports , Science and Technology Ministry. “Ideally I’d like to see the number increase to 300,000, which is the same number of international students Japan is aiming to accept.”

A group representing 19 U.S. states and private universities asked Shionoya to increase funds for undergraduate scholarships, improve the credit transfer system, introduce September admissions and create a category for those who have studied abroad in Japan’s statistical database.

The group was led by Bob Soni of the International Student Network, a U.S. Web site for international students.

Naomi Baldwin, an admissions representative from the University of Central Missouri, asked Shionoya to consolidate public loans and grants for students going abroad, and the minister in turn asked U.S. staff to visit Japan to talk with university students.

Yoko Sakae, president of the Sakae Institute of Study Abroad and the organizer of the meeting, said admission officers from the U.S. have been limiting recruitment fairs in Japan to just a few days before rolling on to the bigger markets of China and South Korea.

She said the drop in Japanese stems from the growing introspectiveness among young people, who are becoming more content with staying in Japan and losing interest in the U.S.

“Young people returning from school trips abroad talk about how much cleaner and safer Japan is compared to other countries, and how much better its cuisine is,” she said before the meeting.

While students in other parts of Asia find studying in the U.S. a great attraction that also helps them secure good jobs, their Japanese counterparts say it does not necessarily lead to better employment, she said.

Now, those with strong English skills are being nudged toward Japanese universities with strong English departments instead, she said.

Shionoya said that Japanese education should focus on globalization through direct experience.

“The prime minister emphasizes the importance of nurturing English conversation,” not just learning English as an academic subject, he said.

Japanese students have a responsibility to contribute to improving the quality of life in other countries, Sakae said.

“Japan is only so great to live in thanks to other countries. For example, Japanese eat food imported from Africa, where the poor are starving. It’s wrong to say, ‘That’s because Japan is an economic superpower and we’re paying,’ ” she said.

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