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Hi Blog. What follows are more travails of foreign and exchange students (not to mention foreign academics employed under this system) who think that studying in Japan is like studying or working at universities in other developed countries.
Debito.org has talked about this flawed system before, as in about a decade ago, when it comes to lack of institutional support for foreign scholarships (to the point where students just give up and leave) or even having sufficient university support when being systematically rejected for an apartment for being a foreigner! Even when the GOJ signals that it wants a more “open-door policy” for more foreign students and staff, what with the Global 30 Project funding from the Ministry of Education, the Times Higher Education reported that Japan’s “entrenched ideas hinder” that from happening. And the THE wrote that article back in 2010, meaning that nearly a decade later things still aren’t getting much better. Read on for Anonymous’s report below on the Kafkaesque ordeal he/she had just trying to transfer schools, even those anointed under the Global 30 Project.
Forewarned is forearmed, prospective students considering Japan as a destination. Know what you’re getting into or suffer an enormous bump in the road on your way to a terminal degree in your field. Debito Arudou Ph.D.
Subject: Ethical Issues/Discriminatory practices being carried out by Todai and Kyodai against MEXT scholars
Date: May 28, 2019
To: Debito Arudou <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Dr. Arudou,
I am writing to you today to ask your advice on how to deal with discriminatory practices and unethical conduct being carried out by some of Japan’s top universities against undergraduate Ministry of Education (MEXT) scholars under the current scholarship system.
I was an undergraduate student for 4 years under the MEXT program. Since the 1st year of university, I was very careful with both my marks and research as I aspired to apply for an extension at the end of my scholarship for masters. This was very hard, as the University of Tokyo, despite being an international university, has a lack of support for mainstream (non-English program) international student undergraduates – our existence was essentially ignored, and the admin never seemed to know what they were doing when it came to providing us with factually correct information. For various personal reasons coupled with frustration at the university, I decided to apply for master’s at the University of Kyoto. Now, it is worth noting at this point that whilst extensions aren’t guaranteed, I felt reassured as I knew that the extensions end would be handled by MEXT – even if they were to reject my application, since MEXT is a government entity I hoped that it would at least not be that unfair. When I was granted the scholarship initially, MEXT was in charge of handling the extensions. There was no information on the pledge (which I believe was a kind of contract?) that our universities would have anything to do with the extension process. Little did I know, in my second year of university, MEXT changed the system (presumably so they wouldn’t have to do as much paperwork), forcing universities to filter out students for selection themselves. I only found out about this late last year. Each university is provided with only a certain number of slots, and if my understanding is correct, if one year not all the slots are filled then the amount of slots allocated to a certain university are drastically decreased the following year.
I think you can understand already how this may be problematic. Here I am, applying for an extension to go to the University of Tokyo’s rival university, with the University of Tokyo having full control of whether to recommend or not recommend me to MEXT. This obviously poses ethical problems, and I was pretty quick to complain to the international office. Why on earth, I asked, am I being evaluated for a scholarship selection by a university who could potentially favor its own scholarship extension applicants, and who I will not be going to next year? At the very least, the University of Kyoto should be evaluating me as it is their university that I passed and would be going to. Lo and behold, I was mysteriously rejected – mid January, and two and a half months before I was about to enter graduate school. This permanently messed up any chance I had of pursuing my graduate studies, and consequently caused numerous other problems. I was forced to scramble to find a job last minute, in order to avoid financial ruin and being deported. There were a lot of problems involved in this incident that would probably equate to about 10 pages worth of text, so I have written a summarized list below.
The University of Tokyo:
1. Being shrugged off by the international office when complaining about the school evaluating me – “It will be okay!” “A student successfully changed schools a previous year!” (It should be noted that the student they were talking about belonged to a different faculty, and that they were evaluated under the old system, so this information was potentially misleading).
2. The University of Tokyo refusing to let foreign students know how exactly they were to be evaluated. No guidelines were given.
3. The University of Tokyo refusing to provide feedback on my research proposal and how it was inferior to that of their other applicants, claiming that it was an invasion of the privacy of other students (Please note that I never once asked for the names and majors of other students.) If they rejected me, they should at least be capable of explaining why they were rejecting me.
4. The University of Tokyo evaluating master’s to PhD extensions in the same framework as undergraduate to masters. MEXT givens them an amount of scholarships and it is up to the university to freely distribute them amongst both categories as they please. How could undergraduates on going to master’s perform better than master’s going on to Phd?
5. A section of the scholarship selection form that asks the student’s supervising professor to comment on the “suitability” of the student to go their other university in the case of changing educational institutes. Whilst my supervising professor did not write anything negative, the fact that this section exists at all is suspicious. There certainly isn’t a section for professors of students continuing at the same university to comment on the suitability of remaining at that university. It would be noted that the University of Tokyo has constantly be denying that they discriminate, despite one members of the international office initially giving me an unsure どうでしょうwhen I asked whether they would or not.
6. The University of Tokyo refusing to give me MEXT’s contact details when I raised the issue of being unfairly treated – they instead wanted me to write a useless 意見書 and attend 会議 in which they would continue to say 気の毒ですが without providing any helpful information. I was also given “thank you for your feedback” responses.
7. No effort on the university’s behalf to change the policy – instead, the “we are being forced to do this by MEXT” excuse was given.
8. When I confronted them about their behavior, they asked me “Why don’t you just apply for other scholarships?”. As I will mention below the University of Kyoto bars MEXT students from applying for any other scholarships that require university recommendation. This means that, even if an organization such as Rotary says that I am eligible to apply for their scholarship, the University of Kyoto would block me on the basis of being MEXT. They then ask about private ones, oblivious to how hard it is for foreign students to get scholarships to begin with, let alone those with a nationality that Japanese consider to be “rich”.
Now for Kyoto University:
1. Refusing to let MEXT scholars applying for extensions to also apply for other scholarships. Kyoto is well aware that there is no guarantee of an extension to begin with and that MEXT funding for the program has been decreasing in recent years, but this is still their policy. This means that if you are refused MEXT by your university and don’t have supportive parents who care about your education, you are pretty much screwed.
2. Not replying to my emails.
3. Not releasing the results of 学費免除 until after admission.
4. Not letting students access information about certain scholarships before admission.
5. Providing information contradicting information given by MEXT – When I complained to an international office within Kyodai, a woman told me that they had problems with the scholarship each year, but no matter how many times they told MEXT about the problems they were ignored. The MEXT official (who I finally got the address of without the help of Todai), denied hearing anything from Kyodai.
And next MEXT:
1. Refusing to care about the ethical issues and potential discrimination issues arising under their system. Their reply was along the lines of, “That is just the way it is” and “Thank you for your feedback.” When I pointed out that the system was affecting other students including myself now, and that we may have been evaluated by our universities based on their own personal agendas, he offered very little sympathy and said the “results could not be changed.”
2. Refusing to respond on numerous occasions to my emails.
3. Stating that “If your university did something unethical, but you have no choice than to be suspicious of them”. Refusing to investigate the university and refusing to attend one of Todai’s useless 会議 despite me giving them prior notice.
1. A point that should be noted is that under the current system, a student at a rural university with very few exchange students could be granted a scholarship extension almost automatically simply because there was no competition. This would be granted despite students at other universities having better academic performance.
2. Potentially, students who went to Kyodai as undergraduates and chose to stay on at Kyodai could have been approved by Kyodai for extensions despite having lower marks than me (or other students in a similar situation), even though we were both destined for graduate school at the same university.
I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this. I think it goes without saying that I am absolutely furious, as I feel like I have worked incredibly hard for 4 years only to be evaluated under an ethically dubious system that leaves me at the mercy of a university that should have no say in whether I get a graduate school scholarship. It was like all three parties were purposely going out of their way to make things as difficult as possible. It appears as if MEXT doesn’t particularly care about who the scholarships go to, only that it goes to some foreign students and they as a result look good. It makes me wonder what Japanese nationals would think about having their tax monies misused in this way. I have confirmed that the system being fair or unfair really does not matter to them.
I have tried to complain to multiple entities outside of MEXT/the universities, but I have had only dead ends. Since the situation involves MEXT, I get the feeling that most organizations want to stay out of it. I have been considering taking legal action but am not sure if I can afford the costs associated with this or if I even have pretense to do so. A Japanese friend said that they thought I should at least have a case for defamation, but I don’t understand enough about education related unethical practices/discrimination in Japan to know for sure. Any advice at all you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
UPDATE: A diet member recently inquired to MEXT about the issue. Apparently, the reply they were given was along the lines of “it is the university’s decision and MEXT can’t interfere”. It seems that both parties are extremely skilled in dodging responsibility and blaming it on the other.
I have recently been considering whether or not I should reach out to other forms of media. My general impression is that Japanese media isn’t very interested in issues affecting minorities, but I was wondering if an English language media such as Japan Times would be potentially interested in the problem. Do you have any thoughts on this?
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