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Editorial: Gov't also bears responsibility for disappearance of over 1,600 int'l students

A recent education ministry probe found that 1,610 international students had gone missing from Tokyo University of Social Welfare over the three-year period ending last academic year. The ministry and other authorities accordingly decided to prohibit the university from admitting undergraduate research students for the time being.

Some of the university's campuses are located in rented spaces in multipurpose buildings also used by public bathhouses and convenience stores, which have hastily been converted into classrooms. This is far from the proper learning environment.

In the 2013 academic year, there were 348 international students at the university. This figure surged to 5,133 in the 2018 academic year, but officials were not able to prepare a system to keep pace with this increase.

Due to a shortage of workers, foreign students are increasingly being relied on to take on part-time jobs at convenience stores and other locations. There are also foreigners who obtain student visas but actually reside in Japan with the purpose of working. It appears that in the case of Tokyo University of Social Welfare, the institution cashed in on a loophole it found in the international student system, enrolling a large number of foreign students to secure income from tuition fees.

The fact that about 80% of the students who went missing last academic year were undergraduate research students who have that status for a year in principle hints that this indeed was the case. Research students are not subject to the university's enrollment limit, and there is no cap on their admission. The number of research students at the institution sharply increased accordingly from the 2016 academic year, pushing up the number of international students overall.

The position of undergraduate research student is normally available only to those who possess a sufficient level of Japanese language ability, but in actual fact there were many overseas students who could only carry out daily conversation at best.

Why didn't the government catch on to this situation sooner?

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology requests regular reports on students who have been removed from institutions or whose whereabouts are unknown. If it had carefully checked the university's reports, then it should have realized something was amiss.

It was not until March this year that the ministry finally conducted an on-site survey and became aware of the abnormal situation. It may have been giving consideration to the institution's autonomy, but we can only conclude that its response came too late.

It is also possible that the international students whose whereabouts remain unknown abused the university's lax selection process. The education ministry and other bodies have indicated that they are preparing to cancel the issuance of the residency status for international students at any institution that is warned about problems with the way it handles the enrollment of such students but fails to comply with orders to improve the situation. This is only a natural move.

The government recently made a major turn toward expanding the number of foreign laborers accepted into Japan, and multicultural coexistence has become a major goal for society. But unless the loopholes are closed in systems that allow circumvention of the law, we will not be able to build a stable Japanese economy within an inclusive society.

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