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Professors oppose 'discriminatory treatment' of foreign students in Japan's virus aid

Maya Hamada, professor of Chinese contemporary literature at Kobe University, is seen in this photo provided by the individual.

TOKYO -- "When providing support for students, it's unthinkable to differentiate them by their nationalities," said one of the many university professors in Japan who are collecting signatures in opposition to the government's decision to only support foreign students with good grades.

Many students are facing difficulties due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, such as losing their part-time jobs and reductions in incomes. The Japanese government has decided to provide cash handouts of 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen (about $925-1,850) per student in university, graduate school, junior college, technical schools and other educational institutions who fulfill criteria for aid such as that they are paying their own tuition and are facing a sharp decline in their income.

Foreign students, meanwhile, have to clear additional criteria such as having good grades and at least 80% attendance rates for classes.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology explained that the extra criteria are designed to limit handouts to people who will contribute to Japan in the future, as many foreign students will be going back to their home countries.

Emiko Ochiai, professor of family sociology at Kyoto University, is seen in this photo provided by the individual.

Seeing the education ministry's decision as problematic, Maya Hamada, professor of Chinese contemporary literature at Kobe University, Emiko Ochiai, professor of family sociology at Kyoto University, and others voluntarily compiled "a joint statement by university professors in opposition to the discriminatory treatment of foreign students and demanding support reaching out to all students in need." Nearly 40 people including Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa have joined in the move.

The statement describes how the handouts are intended to support the lives of students in distress, and raises the question of "why is it that in these difficult times, only foreign students are differentiated by their grades and need to be treated in a discriminatory way, unlike Japanese students?"

The statement also points out, "For us professors, all the students we are teaching are 'students who are learning at a university in Japan,' and we cannot imagine distinguishing them by their nationalities when giving them support."

Professors and others are urging for the abolition of the additional criteria for foreign students, among other demands, saying, "It is an undeniable fact that foreign students who have graduated after studying in Japan are acting as valuable bridges between their home countries and Japan."

Professor Hamada and others publicized their statements online on May 26, and are collecting signatures supporting their demands, while mainly focusing on university professors.

According to Hamada, after the group released its statement, they received critical opinions via Twitter and other platforms, such as, "Why do we need to help foreigners?" She told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I was surprised to hear people feel they are losing something by helping others. Should we be a country that makes a distinction between students who are here and currently struggling based on their nationalities?"

Professor Ochiai brought up the old Japanese saying, "the good you do to others is not for them," meaning that if you do something good, in the end it comes back around, and explained, "In reality, a foreigner who studied here and has a good understanding of Japan is helping this country after returning to their home countries. With globalization accelerating, it's important for Japan to have good international relations."

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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