Crisis keeps foreign students away from classes


Staff Writer

Incessant aftershocks and the fear of radiation leaking from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are dissuading foreign students from starting their new academic year in Japan.

“We only have maybe a dozen exchange students from overseas returning to the area every day” although classes begin in less than a month, a spokesman from Tohoku University, located in Sendai, told The Japan Times Tuesday.

Miyagi Prefecture was hit hard by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Approximately 1,500 students from overseas are enrolled in the prestigious state-run university, including about 700 from China and 200 from South Korea.

“After the quake hit, 70 percent of those foreign students went back to their home countries immediately. Another 20 percent chose to leave the region and flee to other parts of Japan,” the spokesman said.

Although only about 150 overseas students remain in the Sendai area, Tohoku University intends to kick off its classes on May 9 as previously planned. Some buildings on its campus, including facilities of the engineering faculty, were damaged by the magnitude 9.0 temblor. But classes will begin using different classrooms if necessary, according to the spokesman.

“We are using our website and other sources to inform the students that classes are resuming soon,” he said.

Waseda University, in Tokyo, where about 4,150 foreign students are enrolled, said it cannot confirm how many of them left Japan following the mega-quake. But so far about 30 of those have contacted the offices to discuss taking leaves of absence.

A spokesman from Waseda University also said that out of the 927 students who were planning to begin their studies on campus in April, 32 have withdrawn from the program because of concern over the earthquake.”We have postponed the beginning of the academic year from April 6 to May 6,” the university’s spokesman said, adding preparations are under way to assist students from overseas planning to restart their studies in Japan.

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, where over 2,800 students from overseas are enrolled, also received a flood of inquires over the dangers of radiation and tsunami – even though its campus is in Oita Prefecture.

“Most of our foreign students are enrolled as regular students, not as exchange students, so no one has decided to drop out of the program so far,” a spokeswoman from the university said, adding that classes kicked off as usual after the entrance ceremony on April 1.

“But we received nearly 300 phone calls after the earthquake regarding the safety of studying in Japan. In fact we still have students call us even today,” she said. Many appeared to feel that their lack of Japanese skills could become a hindrance in case of emergencies, she added.

Those providing housing for students from overseas are also feeling the impact of the disaster.

“Usually by this time of the year, students are already done with unpacking and set to start their life on campus,” a spokeswoman from Foreign Student Association Co., which accommodates about 200 students in their dormitories around Tokyo, said.

But many students from South Korea and Hong Kong have already canceled their contracts, and only a handful have started arriving in their new housing.

“I’ve heard that some schools are postponing the start of the academic year, so that might be a reason for the delay this spring,” the spokeswoman said. “But fears over the natural disaster and the nuclear power plant are visible.”

There are approximately 140,000 students from overseas studying in Japan according to the education ministry.

The government said it will provide return-trip fees for any of the 770 state-sponsored exchange students residing in the damaged Tohoku area if they evacuated to their home countries after the quake.