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Gov't eyes extending education subsidies to middle-class in Japan

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a government panel meeting held at his office to discuss the future of education on May 10, 2022. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A government panel proposed Tuesday that Japan make higher education more accessible to middle-class students majoring in science and technology by expanding the scope of government subsidies available for low-income students.

    The panel also called for extending financial support to students from households with three or more children, a move a government source says Prime Minister Fumio Kishida intends to use to draw more public support ahead of this summer's upper house election.

    In a meeting of the panel on the future of education, Kishida and other members advocated the creation of a system to allow postgraduate students needing financial assistance to defer their tuition fees until their salary reaches a certain threshold.

    Headed by Kishida, the panel involves several Cabinet ministers and leaders of the academic and business circles.

    The series of proposals, which the government is aiming to introduce in fiscal 2024, comes amid criticism that support for middle-class families has been inadequate.

    "Promoting a positive cycle of growth and distribution through investment in people, including education, is an urgent matter," Kishida said. "We will promptly prepare for the necessary legal revisions and budgetary measures."

    The proposals are expected to be further deliberated by a government task force involving Kishida and all his Cabinet members to realize a new form of capitalism, a concept the prime minister advocates to push for fairer wealth distribution.

    Under the envisioned new system, students from households with an annual income of 6 million yen ($46,000) or less will be eligible for support for the middle-class, especially in light of high tuition fees in science, engineering and agriculture, according to government sources.

    It was also proposed that a special support program for female students in science, technology, and agriculture-related disciplines be established to encourage a higher number of women to pursue those fields.

    The current student support system, which began in fiscal 2020, provides full scholarships to university students from low-income households, such as those exempt from residential tax.

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