The Cabinet approved Tuesday a program to provide up to ¥200,000 ($1,900) in a cash handout to each of around 430,000 university and other students in the nation struggling financially to pay for tuition or living costs amid the spread of the new coronavirus.
The support measure comes as the pandemic has led to business closures in many regions, and forced students to suspend or cut back on their part-time jobs. Students from overseas are also eligible for the program.
Students from low-income households exempt from residence tax will receive ¥200,000 each, and others ¥100,000.
The government has set aside ¥53 billion from reserves under its first supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to finance the program. Eligible for the program are graduate and undergraduate students at universities, students at junior, technical and vocational colleges and foreign students studying at Japanese language schools.
"It's most important for students not to abandon continuing and advancing their education. We'd like to quickly provide assistance to all," education minister Koichi Hagiuda told reporters.
The government will depend on schools to determine which of their students should receive the assistance and will disburse the payment through the Japan Student Services Organization, an independent body that provides financial aid to students.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, had proposed a cash handout program for underprivileged students amid the virus crisis. A bill had also been proposed mainly by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan to provide cash handouts and waive tuition.
Public and private universities have also asked the government to offer financial support as grant-type economic aid and as tuition waivers for students.
But some students have criticized the program, arguing it should cover more of them and tuition fees should be reduced.
With only one out of 10 students covered, a student advocacy group, which has been calling on the government to provide advanced education for free, described the program as "insufficient."
Facing diminished incomes amid the pandemic, around 20 percent of students are considering abandoning their studies, the body said, citing its survey in April.
"The fundamental problem is that every student is negatively affected by the disaster but there is no attempt to financially support all students," it said in a statement.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.