The Japanese government has announced an ambitious goal of attracting 400,000 inbound international students and increasing the number of Japanese outbound students to 500,000 by 2033.

In announcing Japan’s new targets at the fifth meeting of the Council for the Creation of Future Education, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed that to achieve these new targets Japan would need to promote English language education as well as review policies around residency status and employment support for international graduates and returning Japanese students. He also said that promoting international exchange with other G7 member countries would be crucial.

Growing Japan’s inbound students

Japan had previously set a target to host 300,000 international students by 2020, and reached this goal ahead of time, welcoming 312,214 international students in 2019. However, COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures saw this number drop significantly.

As of 1 May 2021, Japan was hosting 242,444 international students. China (114,255 students) and Vietnam (49,469 students) are the top two sending countries. Other top sending countries are Nepal, the Republic of Korea, and Indonesia.

NikkeiAsia reports that the Japanese government will consider measures such as internship programs as a means of encouraging international students to remain in Japan after their studies. This is likely to be critical, as Japan has traditionally not performed as well as other countries when it comes to the acceptance and retention of international students. However, tight labour market conditions have seen an increasing number of international graduates being employed by Japanese companies, and the acceptance of foreign employees in the Japanese workforce, making some experts hopeful that improving post-study work rights will increase the attractiveness of Japan as a study destination.

However, some have expressed doubts about Japan’s capacity to achieve these targets. Benjamin McCracken, director of Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU)’s Hikone Campus told The Pie News that many Japanese universities do not have the systems and support structures in place to support an increase in the number of foreign students, citing an example of one university using existing students to take international students to the hospital. McCracken also stressed that Japanese universities will also need to make more programs available in the English language in order to increase the country’s attractiveness as a destination due to declining foreign student interest in learning Japanese intensively.

Concerns over Japan’s capacity to achieve outbound targets

Japan’s goal of increasing the number of outbound students to 500,000 is perhaps the most ambitious aspect of its new internationalisation strategy. Japan had approximately 80,000 students studying abroad in the early 2000s, however, this figure has plummeted to just 32,913 students according to UNESCO figures. McCracken also doubts that Japan will be able to achieve its target of 500,000 Japanese students studying abroad without major changes to education policy, scholarship support and provision of language education in schools. McCracken told The Pie News that Japanese students traditionally have low levels of English proficiency and that allowing students to study languages other than English in school is likely to be the key to helping more Japanese students study abroad.


While Japan clearly has some work ahead if it is to achieve its ambitious targets, international investors and those looking for growth opportunities in PBSA markets will welcome the Japanese government’s long-term commitment to increased student mobility.