The most recent evidence of the terrible effects of Japan’s economic slowdown comes from the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations. This consumer cooperative, which researches and supports university life, reported last October that more university students than ever are having a hard time paying for their studies.

Students’ difficulties these days are more than the standard tight budgets all students suffer through. The Co-op report found that the number of university students living away from home who receive no allowance at all from their parents hit a record 10.2 percent in 2009. Over 14 percent of all students said that a change in their family’s finances during the past year had affected them. The survey found that students’ average parental support, ¥74,000 per month, is the lowest since 1983, before the bubble economy.

Japanese parents may have once paid their children’s tuition payments with pride, but these days, the percentage of students who depend on scholarships is at the highest level ever. The report found that 37 percent of students now receive aid. That percentage may seem small compared to the 63 percent of American college students receiving aid, but it comes at a cost. Students are now learning harsh lessons about financing their schooling rather than focusing on their major subjects. Once finished, they will learn that only 73.1 percent of students — this year’s all-time low since the education ministries started keeping records in 1996 — can find full-time employment.

As education becomes more important for future workplace requirements, students are scrambling harder than ever to pay their bills. As educational tasks — specializations, language learning, critical thinking and communication skills — become more time-intensive to accomplish, students are devoting more of their time trying to pay for it all. With more pressure to pay back loans, greater time spent on part-time jobs and the increased stress of job-hunting, many students will likely be spending less time and energy learning than ever before.

The basic solution to these problems is fairly straightforward: greater financial support from the government. Many schools are already considering lowering tuition. Other changes are needed as well such as enabling students to start job-hunting later — instead of in their third year of study — to give them time to learn at the peak of their university years.

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