By Yukiko Furusawa and Takeharu Ishibashi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersAn anomaly has cropped up in the once uniform tuition fees of Japan’s national universities. Starting with students enrolling next spring, the Tokyo Institute of Technology (see below) will raise its annual tuition fees by about ¥100,000. The tuition hike is aimed at improving educational content, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology is the first national university to raise undergraduate tuition fees independently. Behind this are increasingly difficult financial conditions for national universities, and it seems likely to spur debate over the cost of education at universities.
Keeping up with world
Since the 2004 corporatization of national universities, they have been allowed to set their tuition fees at a level up to 120 percent of the standard rate established by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry (currently ¥535,800). However, all national universities have left their tuition at the ministry’s standard rate, with the exception of a few graduate schools.
Starting with undergraduates enrolling next spring and graduate students enrolling in September next year, the Tokyo Institute of Technology will raise the annual tuition fees by ¥99,600 to ¥635,400. An 18.6 percent increase brings the tuition near the upper limit of 120 percent, though it will not apply to students already enrolled.
President Kazuya Masu explained the purpose of the tuition hike, saying: “To keep up with the world’s top universities, we will pursue educational reforms that differentiate us from other universities. We would like students to take on part of the necessary costs.”
This spring, the Tokyo Institute of Technology was selected as one of the designated national university corporations that aim for world-class research and human resources development. The income brought in by the tuition hike will be used to recruit international researchers, support students studying abroad and promote classes that incorporate debate and presentations, among other things.
Government subsidies for the management of national universities, which provide the institutions’ basic funding, have been cut by about 10 percent since their corporatization. The Tokyo Institute of Technology has coped with the situation through measures such as cutting teaching staff by about 10 percent and significantly increasing external funding through industry-university collaboration.
The university further plans to redevelop its Tokyo campus, which includes an affiliated high school, into commercial facilities to further increase income.
Expansion of financial assistance
Along with the tuition hike, the university plans to provide financial assistance to students in tight economic circumstances.
Eligibility for tuition exemptions will be expanded from those with a household income of ¥5.5 million or lower, the current standard, to those of ¥7 million or lower. The university also plans to create independent scholarship grants that students will not need to repay, and to provide ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 monthly to 500 students, including graduate students.
The university will selectively provide such financial support to students from outside Tokyo, who bear a higher cost of living. It will also prioritize students whose parents did not graduate from university. Taking into account U.S. measures to rectify disparities, it will target “first generation” students who will be the first in their family to receive a university education.
“We will expand our financial assistance so that aspiring students will not give up on going to university. Accepting diverse students will also help invigorate the university,” Masu said.
The increase in the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s income from the tuition hike is expected to be ¥790 million annually. When the cost of measures to reduce the financial burden on students is deducted, a total of about ¥240 million is expected to be raised annually.
¥400,000 over 4 years
Some believe that the Tokyo Institute of Technology moved to raise its tuition fees ahead of other universities because of its “brand strength.”
Hideki Shirakawa, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is a graduate of the university, and Yoshinori Ohsumi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, is an honorary professor there.
After the University of Tokyo, the Tokyo Institute of Technology is the most difficult science and engineering university to enter in the Tokyo metropolitan area, so it is considered unlikely that applicants will head to other universities.
Kenichi Ishihara, the admissions information center director at the Sundai Educational Institute, said: “As the Tokyo Institute of Technology is a university dedicated to science and technology, it is relatively easy to accept that the education costs are high at the university. I think it is time for Japanese universities to give some thought to tuition commensurate with the education content.”
At the same time, a 49-year-old mother living in Tokyo, whose child wants to enter a science and engineering university, expressed misgivings. “An increase of ¥400,000 over four years, or ¥600,000 in total if my child goes to a graduate school, would be painful. I worry that the case of the Tokyo Institute of Technology could influence other national universities.”
In contrast to the uniform tuition fees at national universities, among private universities the tuition fees for science and medicine courses tend to greatly exceed those of humanities courses. Since government subsidies are scant and about 80 percent of university income is covered by tuition and other fees, the burden on students is heavier.
The state of university education costs varies from country to country. In the United States, while tuition at private universities is several million yen per year, there are also robust scholarship programs. In France, where national universities are the norm, they are almost free of charge, but advancement and graduation are difficult.
Motohisa Kaneko, a specially appointed professor at the University of Tsukuba who is well versed in university systems, said: “Various ill effects are manifesting among national universities due to financial difficulties, such as cuts in personnel spending and an inability to promote younger staff. A tuition hike by a competitive university like the Tokyo Institute of Technology will create an opening for debate about educational expenses.”
He added: “Improving the quality of education and expanding scholarships are prerequisites for raising tuition. If the difference in tuition fees with private universities were to narrow further, the reason for national universities to exist would come into question.”
Other universities show interest
Following the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s tuition hike, the Tokyo University of the Arts announced on Oct. 26 that it would raise the tuition fees for undergraduates who will be enrolled in the next academic year or later by ¥107,160, an increase of the upper limit of 20 percent from the standard rate established by the education ministry. It is aimed at improving the education system to develop world-class artists.
From September to October, The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey of 20 selected national universities that focus on research, and those dedicated to specific departments. Replies from seven universities expressed a positive stance on reviewing the current state of tuition fees and the need to raise them.
Hokkaido University responded, “We will examine the level of tuition fees comprehensively based on factors such as the actions of the government and other universities, as well as the economic climate.” Osaka University replied, “We’re collecting information on the impact of tuition adjustments.” There were also some universities that envision varying tuition fees from department to department.
There were 11 universities that explicitly stated that they are not considering tuition hikes, including the University of Tokyo and Tokyo Medical and Dental University. Two universities, including the Tokyo University of the Arts, did not respond.
Negative views from universities outside Tokyo also stood out, such as, “Taking national universities’ role into account, we cannot easily take steps to raise tuition fees” and “It is possible that the number of applicants could decline.”
A university president confessed, “Unlike donations and external research grants, tuition hikes are attractive because you can expect a stable income every year.”
The president of another university expressed concern, saying, “Tuition hikes may be used as grounds to further cut government subsidies to manage national universities, resulting in only increasing the burden on students.”
■ Tokyo Institute of Technology
Originally founded as the Tokyo Vocational School in the Meiji era (1868-1912), this national science and engineering university has a history stretching back 137 years. It has about 4,800 undergraduate students and about 5,400 graduate students. Since fiscal 2016, it has implemented reforms, such as introducing integrated education between undergraduate and graduate courses, and also has focused efforts on liberal arts education by a diverse faculty.Speech