Education International
Education International

Japan: Ending tuition exemption a ‘bad decision’

published 7 November 2013 updated 28 November 2013

EI has branded as a “bad decision” Japan’s move to introduce an income cap for its tuition-free programme for public high schools during the 2014 fiscal year. This “will destroy an education policy that has taken root after three years and is supported by parents and educators,” said EI’s Chief Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, Shashi Bala Singh.

The Japanese Government’s adoption of this Bill means that households with annual income of ¥9.1 million ($92,200) or more will become ineligible for the programmes introduced in 2010. The Government hopes to get the bill revising the law on the programme to be enacted during the national Parliament’s extraordinary session being held until 6 December.

Parents must report income levels

Now, parents of public high school students will need to report their annual income to the schools or the local boards of education after the introduction of the income cap – this will affect an estimated 790,000 students from April 2014.

Tuition fee collection will start with first-year students joining high schools in the 2014 fiscal year. Students in their second and third year in this fiscal year will continue to be covered by the current free education programme.

The tuition fee revenue will be used to set up a new scholarship programme for students from low-income households and increase financial support for households with private high school students.

“The Government plans to use the money saved by the introduction of an income cap to increase tuition support for private school students and give grants for students from poor families,” said Singh. “Instead of this approach, they should seriously consider increasing the education budget itself.”

Exemptions in place since 2010

In March 2010, the Democratic Party of Japan Government pushed through the Parliament a law to exempt tuition for high school students irrespective of their families’ annual income. The law was based on the idea that society as a whole should support students, who will build the future Japan, whether they are from rich families or from poor families. Under the system, public high schools do not collect tuition from students and about ¥120,000 ($1,215) is provided annually to each student studying at private high schools — the equivalent of public high school tuition.

But on 27 August, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito Party forming the current ruling coalition agreed to introduce an income cap for the tuition exemption and support system.

This goes against the provisions of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The multilateral treaty calls for the gradual introduction of free education for junior and senior high schools, and colleges and universities. Whilst Japan did not accept the provisions for a long time, it finally accepted them in September 2012, 33 years after it ratified the treaty.

Furthermore, according to a 2013 report issued by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan’s public outlays for educational organisations accounted for only 3.6 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2010. This is lower than the average 5.4 per cent for OECD member countries and the lowest among 30 member countries whose data are mutually comparable. Japan occupied the lowest position for three consecutive years.

EI: Raise taxes, not exclusion

In addition to going against international provisions, this proposal will also cause trouble for local governments and schools, Singh highlighted. It will force them to change by-laws and computer programmes, and to collect tuition from parents unwilling to cooperate.

“We support the idea that society as a whole should support children irrespective of their families’ financial status,” she said. “If the party thinks that the system violates the ideal of equality, it should raise the taxes paid by wealthy families rather than exclude their children from the tuition exemption and support system.

“The United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focusing on pressing development challenges, such as employment, education and health, can be a useful tool, a bulwark against privatisation,” Singh reminded.