National / Social Issues

More struggling to get handle on student loans

by Makoto Nishimura

Kyodo

An increasing number of students are struggling to pay education loans and more than 6,000 lawsuits were filed over the fallout in the 2013 academic year alone.

Kazuya Fujishima, 29, a graduate student at Hokkaido University, owes some ¥10 million in an interest-bearing loan he began to receive when attending a private university in Sapporo in 2005. He continued to rely on the fund as he went on to the national university for graduate studies.

Fujishima was raised by his mother, who could not afford to put him through school. With no parental allowance, he financed his living and school expenses with a loan of around ¥100,000 per month and several tens of thousands of yen from part-time jobs.

But even that was not enough, and he was forced to take a leave of absence for a year. The several hundred thousand yen he earned in the year barely covered six months of school expenses.

Fujishima is painfully aware of how tough it is for poor people to receive a university education.

The ability of many parents to meet expenses weakened sharply during Japan’s prolonged economic slump.

Around 1.34 million students took on interest-bearing scholarships in the 2013 school year, according to the Japan Student Services Organization.

But by the end of the year, about 330,000 borrowers had fallen behind with their payments; the organization took action against 6,082 of them, compared with only 58 in 2004.

Since payments are key to receiving fresh loans, the scholarship system “cannot survive without them,” said a representative.

A survey by the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations found that boarders received an average ¥72,000 in allowances from parents in 2013, down about 30 percent from the peak in the late 1990s.

The reason for the smaller allowances appeared to be parents’ lower financial strength. A recent labor ministry survey said average annual income per household fell to ¥5.37 million in 2012 from ¥6.55 million in 1998.

A number of students taking part-time jobs to cover living expenses are required to work long hours and thus are too exhausted to attend school. Some thus quit, said Manabu Sato, co-leader of a labor union set up to support part-timers at “burakku kigyo,” the exploitative sweatshop-type employers known as black companies.

In 2013, Fujishima set up an advisory group that includes lawyers to advise students and graduates under loan pressure.

While Fujishima is willing to work as a university official, job offers are mostly on a temporary basis.

“When I think of my payments, I cannot think positively of joining the workforce,” he said.

“Many young people may give up on university in these circumstances,” Fujishima said. He said there is a need for a system that will allow university students to enter the world of work upon graduation without bearing financial burden.