Incentives are needed to reverse the decline in Japanese enrollment at U.S. universities as Japanese companies compete harder and earlier to recruit new graduates, experts said at a symposium.

“They need clear incentives and encouragement from the government, academia, the media and private enterprise. They need to know their investment in global skills will be rewarded,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos said.

The symposium “Enhancing U.S.-Japan Relations and Educational Exchange in a Globalized Society” was jointly organized by the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (Culcon) and Waseda University.

Since both Washington and Tokyo agree that increasing the number of exchange students in both countries is important to bolstering bilateral ties, Roos emphasized that providing incentives will be key to encouraging them to study abroad.

There were 19,966 Japanese enrolled at U.S. universities from 2011 to 2012, according to the Institute of International Education, part of an ongoing decline that began in 2004, when 42,215 were enrolled. By comparison, there were only 4,134 Americans studying at Japanese colleges and universities from 2010 to 2011, down from 6,166 from 2009 to 2010, the IIE data said.

At a panel talk in the morning, Harvard University political science professor Susan Pharr, a member of the Culcon panel and a prominent Japanologist, pointed out that “the structure of the recruiting season” could be one of several possible reasons for the decline in Japanese students in the U.S.

Pharr said the drop occurred at around the same time Japanese companies changed their student recruitment strategies by starting with juniors instead of seniors, making it difficult for students to leave the country, which is suffering from a rapidly aging population and declining birthrate.

Kunio Ishihara, vice chairman of Keidanren, spoke about the influential business lobby’s scholarship program for Japanese who wish to study abroad. He said 34 students took advantage of the scholarship last year.

Ishihara said the lobby’s stance on whether Japan Inc. should comply with the government’s request to move the start of the annual recruitment campaign to March from December of the junior year is still being debated. Last December, it pushed back some October events to December after it was criticized for forcing students to skip classes.

The other attendees at the symposium included former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Minoru Makihara, Japan chairman of Culcon.

Meanwhile, Waseda University senior Cari Peterson, a panelist at another discussion, pointed out that more information on Japanese universities should be provided in English if Japan wants more foreign students.

Speaking from experience, Peterson, who enrolled in Waseda after graduating high school in the U.S., said Americans who want to attend Japanese colleges must have a strong will to do so because they have to be aggressive about looking up information.

She also feels that Japanese universities have marketing and branding problems in the U.S.

Culcon’s task force on education, headed by Mineta to represent the American side and by former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to represent Japan, is to submit a report on how to achieve a twofold increase by 2020 to their countries’ current leaders in mid-June.

The bilateral conference was initiated in 1961 by then Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and President John F. Kennedy to make proposals for cultural and educational exchanges in conjunction with academics, business leaders and government officials.

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