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Tuition hikes at 5 Japan nat'l universities spark student outrage

Hitotsubashi University is seen in the Tokyo suburban city of Kunitachi in November 2019. (Mainichi/Yuka Narita)

TOKYO --Tuition hikes at five Japanese national universities since spring 2019 have sparked anger among students who say they have not been told why they will have to shell out more cash for their education.

Annual tuitions for undergraduate students at 82 national universities -- apart from four postgraduate-only institutions -- had been set at the standard sum of 535,800 yen (about $4,880) or less since the schools were incorporated in academic 2004. Prior to this, the government set a standard tuition while considering variables such as commodity price rises and the balance with private universities.

After the fiscal 2004 incorporation, a standard tuition fee was introduced under a ministerial ordinance -- 520,800 yen for the 2004 academic year, and 535,800 yen for academic 2005 and onward. National universities can now raise tuition up to an extra 20%, but most of them have maintained their tuitions at the standard fee or less.

It was the Tokyo Institute of Technology that first took a pricier path. The prestigious school raised its tuition fee by some 20% starting with students enrolling in academic 2019. The Tokyo University of the Arts also raised its tuition from the same academic year. Then Chiba University, Hitotsubashi University and Tokyo Medical and Dental University followed suit, deciding to raise their tuitions starting in academic 2020.

Each university attributed the hikes to the need to enrich their programs and compete internationally. Hitotsubashi University announced its tuition raise on its website in September 2019.

"We'll spend the increased revenue to boost our global competitiveness and improve our educational environment, among other purposes," a public relations official at the institution commented.

However, a survey of current and prospective Hitotsubashi students conducted by a students' group in October and November 2019 revealed that only around 60% of the 280 pollees were aware of the tuition hike and its reasons.

"The university has not made it clear how much money it needs for what purposes," said a student who spearheaded the survey.

At an assembly held at the school on Dec. 7, students from other institutions including Chiba University and the Tokyo University of the Arts also joined, and participants launched a national university students' group calling for a halt to tuition hikes.

Public subsidies for national universities have been slashed by 1% annually since the incorporation in academic 2004, at the same time as the schools have been called on to increase revenues. In fiscal 2016, a system to peg subsidy amounts to how much progress universities have made on internal reforms was introduced.

J.F. Oberlin University professor Masayuki Kobayashi, an expert in the cost burdens of higher education, said, "Universities have heretofore persevered while not raising their tuitions to achieve their missions of providing equal educational opportunities." However, he added, "universities are accountable to students and society as a whole for explaining what can be improved, such as specific educational activities, by hiking tuition."

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita, City News Department)

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