News from Japan #02
Students that have lost their part-time jobs as a result of Corona will be able to apply for an additional stimulus. But how about international students? We looked at the news and some reactions to them.
A new student stimulus and international students
Source: Huffington Post Japan, 21nd May 2020
Last week, the Japanese government put together a plan to help students in Japan that are facing financial difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Like everywhere else in the world, many students in Japan are at least partly relying on income from part-time jobs to support themselves while attending university. While Japan never went into “full lockdown” like some other countries, many businesses shortened their opening times, which resulted in many part-timers losing their jobs.
The new stimulus package is designed to specifically support students that were heavily relying on part-time work. In addition to the “general” 100,000 JPY stimulus that is still being rolled out right now, they will be able to receive an additional 100,000 to 200,000 directly to their bank accounts.
However, in contrast to the general stimulus, this one isn’t of the “blanket” (一律, いちりつ) type. Students who want to claim this stimulus have to fulfill certain requirements that “prove” that they really need the extra money. Those requirements include:
- ■ Having lost more than 50% of part-time work income
- ■ Part-time work income making up a significant amount of living expenses/tuition
- ■ Not living with relatives
- ■ Not receiving high allowances from relatives
However, on May 20th, multiple news outlets started reporting that there were additional requirements for international students, those being:
- ■ Good grades (more specifically, a GPA higher than 2.3)
- ■ A class attendance percentage of over 80%
- ■ Receiving less than 90,000 JPY in allowances every month
- ■ A Japan-residing supporter with a yearly income below 5,000,000 JPY
So while Japanese students “just” need to be facing financial troubles to qualify, international students need a good grade and attendance record on top. This disparity between requirements resulted in some critical voices being raised.
Especially the grade condition is being questioned. According to Kyodo News, only the top 30% will be able to receive the stimulus. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) said that because a high number of international students will return to their home countries sooner or later, the requirements were set to target those students who are likely to contribute to Japan in the future.
In an interview with Huffington Post Japan, the ministry stressed: “When discussing the support measure, we made serious efforts to also include international students. We are not discriminating.“
The ministry was also quick to add that these conditions don’t represent hard limits. In the end, it’s the universities that decide which students to support, so there is still some wiggle room when grades or attendance rates don’t match the official requirements.
Reactions to the special stimulus
Next, let’s look at some reactions. What did people in Japan think of this news?
On news sites and social media, there’s a wide variety of opinions on the topic. First and foremost, there are commenters opposing the decision because the Coronavirus crisis couldn’t be anticipated and that it’s not appropriate to apply special conditions to only a certain subset of people. On Twitter, these opinions accumulated under the hashtag 「#文科省は外国人留学生全員に現金給付をしろ」(“the MEXT should give money directly to all international students”).
Hashtags that directly address political and social problems have seen increased use in the few past weeks. Although infection numbers are still low (and have been continuing to drop for about a week now) the government’s general handling of the crisis has motivated people to speak up about all sorts of issues.
— 黒あんず (@blackanzoec) May 20, 2020
Japanese and foreigners, students and working adults, we’re all just living our lives. This [stimulus] guarantees our livelihood, so it should be given to everyone equally.
On the other hand, there are commenters who think that the differentiation is appropriate and that international students should either return to their home countries or seek support from their governments. This is the crowd who maintains the opinion that it’s only natural for a country to give preferential treatment to its own nationals.
Back when the general stimulus was announced, opinions on whether foreigners should also be able to receive the money largely fell into two camps, more or less representing the two answers “Yes” and “No”. However, it seems like the response to the student stimulus is not as clearly divided, probably because it doesn’t only differentiate between Japanese nationals and foreigners, but also students and non-students. That means that some people think their fellow countrymen don’t deserve the extra money.
Some voices would favor it the other way round – not removing the grade requirements for international students, but applying them to Japanese students as well. These commenters doubt whether the money will be used for the “right” purposes and argue that there are channels through which the stimulus could have been better tailored to fulfill a single, specific goal. The comments cited below were posted under the Yahoo! News version of the Huffington Post article linked above.
I understand that this is a measure to repel those international students that are only “students” on paper, of which there are a lot. But government-issued support should be given in the form of subsidies for tuition reduction at the proper educational institutions, to the schools. Giving the money directly to the students will result in a great number of cases where [money like this] is not being used for its intended purpose as academical support, so I can’t approve this.
Others found it strange that specifically students are being singled out as recipients of a special stimulus when there are people that would need the money more and/or are contributing more to society at this point in time.
Wouldn’t it be appropriate to also apply the grade requirements to Japanese students as well?
They’re already receiving 100,000 Yen because they’re nationals, right?
Students who are properly attending class and studying – OK. But students who don’t study and spend all their time part-timing being able to get money just because they lost their jobs [is a bit much]…
If they [the government] are doing that, why don’t they also give more money to freeters?
“Freeter” is the Japanese term for people who have graduated from university but are not employed full-time. There are multiple reasons why someone may become a freeter. Some simply want more time to pursue their interests after university without being held back by the rules and regulations that come with being a company employee – entrepreneurs and freelancers. Others simply couldn’t find a job after university and are using part-time work to finance their livelihood.
|疑問視（する）||ぎもんし（する）||to question/be sceptical of smth.|
|貢献（する）||こうけん||contribution (to a project, society, etc.)|
|差別（する）||さべつ||discrimination (both in the general and negative sense)|
|一律||いちりつ||uniform, evenly, equal|
|給付||きゅうふ||payment, provision of funds|
|名ばかりの～||なばかりの～||～ in name only (“not really ～”)|
|弾く||はじく||(1) flick, snap
(2) repel, turn away
|減免||げんめん||reduction, exemption (of taxes and other )|
|支出（する）||ししゅつ||expenses, to spend expend money on smth.|
|補助金||ほじょきん||subsidies, support payment|
|趣旨||しゅし||the general meaning, point or goal of smth.|
|逸脱||いつだつ||deviation (ex. from an original purpose)|
|～三昧||～ざんまい||being completely immersed in ～, doing nothing but ～, enjoying ～ to one’s heart’s content|
When it comes to money (especially government money that’s collected from everyone’s tax payments) opinions split easily. Japan sits somewhere in the middle when it comes to social expenses. It’s not as generous as some European countries, but it also offers some benefits like universal health insurance.
Still, many Japanese do think that people shouldn’t rely on or accept public funds unless they absolutely need or deserve them. Because of this, stimuli or subsidies to certain subsets of people are quick to be criticized – especially online, where everyone can hide behind some amount of anonymity. The current crisis has affected the general opinion in the sense that many are more or less OK with unusual measures for dealing with unprecedented problems.