Statement Calling for Urgent Financial Support for University Students and Students Wishing to Enroll at Universities who are Victims of the Disaster
In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake (the “Disaster”), a number of university students and students wishing to enroll in universities have been left with no alternative but to give up continuing their studies or enrolling in university because of their inability to pay their tuition fees due to reasons such as their parents’ having lost their employment. According to the news report, as of August of 2011, as many as approximately 73,000 students of elementary, junior high, and high schools had difficulties attending school because of economic reasons, affected by the Disaster. The extraordinary special grants for school attendance support for affected students of approximately 11.3 billion yen was allocated in the first Supplementary Budget for FY 2011 which were approved in May 2011. Immediately after the Disaster, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (“MEXT”) estimated that the number of students who would apply for such financial support would be 68,140, but the grants for school attendance support are said to have almost been run out since the applications for the amount equivalent to 11.123 billion yen had already been made as of August, which include approximately 44,000 applications made by students of elementary and junior high schools from across the nation. Thus, a vast number of children have been left with no option but to rely on financial support for school attendance because of their inability to pay for school supplies, club activities, etc., even if they have no burden of having to pay tuition fees. Such fact clearly indicates that the proposed measures such as substantially free education are yet to be implemented. Furthermore, things are even more serious in universities where beneficiaries are to bear the entire cost of their education. These facts demonstrate that a decline in parents’ income has a direct impact on the withdrawal of children from school attendance, etc. During an on-site investigation which took place in Iwate Prefecture, the site of the Disaster, the JFBA’s Committee on Poverty listened to the anguished voices of the victims of the Disaster who had lost their jobs. The victims mentioned that it was heartbreaking that their children would have to quit their studies at university because of their failure to pay tuition. It is easy to imagine that there must be a number of young people who are unable to express their hope of enrolling in university or continuing their studies at university under their present harsh situation where the best they can do is to live on a day to day basis in spite of their strong desire to study. Such situation may not only shatter such children’s dreams but also lead to a future mired in poverty. If such issue is neglected, far from achieving reconstruction from the Disaster, it may prolong and entrench the Disaster’s damage, leaving untreated and indeed aggravating the scar inflicted by the Disaster as a situation of causing increased poverty among children.
In the first place, a major problem lies in the current situation in Japan where children’s educational opportunities are greatly affected by parents’ financial resources.
Education is indispensable as a basis for the foundation of the self-fulfillment of children’s potential, and a fundamental action to establish a society with freedom, fairness, and vitality. In addition, education also plays a pivotal role in supporting children grow to lead society in the future, and preventing them from falling into poverty. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce policies and budgetary measures which are based on the recognition that the cost of education is an issue for society as a whole, not simply to be borne by individual beneficiaries.
However, including a re-examination being considered of the free high school tuition program which has only recently been realized, the current situation in Japan runs counter to the move to ease the burden of school fees. Even in respect to scholarships, all public scholarships are loans. Furthermore, with consideration of such facts as the expansion of interest-bearing scholarship loans and blacklisting of delinquents, scholarships are deviating from and go against the original principle and consequently transforming practically into something similar to “education loans” of a commercial business.
As mentioned above, this is a major issue even outside the disaster-stricken areas, but is a particularly urgent matter for university students and students wishing to enroll at universities who have been affected by the Disaster. Unless they have a prospect of being able to pay tuition for the next academic year and after, students currently studying at university would have no alternatives but to drop out of the university, and those who wish to enroll at university have no alternatives but to give up taking the entrance examination of a university itself. Whether to be able to have a prospect to pay tuition for and after the academic year 2012 is a serious issue for university students and those wishing to enroll at university, which would determine their futures. The application period for the National Center Test for University Admissions already commenced, and the same for application submissions to each university will follow shortly. Since now is the time for students who wish to enroll at university to decide their future plans for the next academic year, and their decisions need be made with no time to waste. In addition, university students who have to drop out have no moment to lose, as they need to start activities to find a job after the end of the current academic year. Therefore, it is essential and indispensable to provide urgent and intensive assistance for university students and students wishing to enroll at universities who have been affected by the Disaster.
MEXT is requesting presidents of national, public, private universities, etc., to make arrangements, including dissemination of information on emergency and temporary aid scholarships and the implementation of an exemption of tuition fees and other financial aid programs. However, the emergency and temporary aid scholarships are all loan-typed programs, thereby imposing new debts on students. In addition, financial aid programs such as an exemption of tuition fees have limitations in terms of effectiveness, because such programs are established by individual universities, and the financial bases of public and private universities have currently been weakening.
In light of the above circumstance, MEXT started examination toward establishing a program of grant-type scholarships which do not require repayment as a financial aid program targeting university students, etc. with financial difficulty in the aftermath of the Disaster, and we believe that such program should be implemented immediately.
Therefore, in order to ensure educational opportunities at universities for university students and students wishing to enroll at university who have been affected by the Disaster, the JFBA strongly urges the government to i) implement necessary budgetary measures to help each college and university reduce or exempt tuition fees for those affected students equally regardless of scholarship providers, and ii) urgently establish grant-type scholarship programs for such students.
November 16, 2011
Japan Federation of Bar Associations