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Education

Japanese-language schools face tighter rules on quality

Some institutions under scrutiny for being too quick to help foreign students find work

Vietnamese students attend class at a Japanese-language school in Sakai, Osaka.

TOKYO -- Japan's government will soon make it harder for foreign students at Japanese-language schools to complete their courses quickly and spend the rest of the year working. The initiative reflects government concerns that the rapid increase in the number of such schools has led to a deterioration in the quality of education they provide.

"What we need to do is to have Japanese language schools refocus on what they are supposed to do, namely to provide Japanese-language learning," a Justice Ministry official said.

The ministry believes the increasing number of schools has been driven by their growing willingness to accept students who come to Japan primarily to work. 

Among the problems that have arisen are cases of operators being arrested for referring students to employers for part-time work, and allowing them to work longer hours than allowed by law.

The revision of school licensing requirements, to take effect in October, will include a requirement that each course last at least 35 weeks a year.

Currently, students are only required to earn 760 credits a year, allowing them to finish a school year in as little as six months at some schools. Some institutions are promoting this to students as an opportunity to work for an extended stretch.

The number of Japanese-language schools in the country has risen quickly to about 680 as of April, greater that the number of private universities, as more foreign nationals enroll. The government has set a goal of increasing the number of foreign students to 300,000 by 2020.

According to the Japan Student Services Organization, there were about 267,000 foreign students enrolled in universities and Japanese-language schools in May 2017, a rise of about 11% from a year earlier and a record high. 

The number enrolled at Japanese-language schools increased by about 10,000, or 15%, to about 78,000 from a year earlier, and about 230% from five years earlier. The number of those studying at universities and other higher-education institutions totaled 188,000, up 10% from a year earlier.

By law, to be licensed, Japanese-language schools must meet requirements such as specified class periods and minimum number of teaching staff. Licensed schools can operate as educational institutions, joint-stock companies or individual enterprises.

Another problem is the shortage of people qualified to work as principals, resulting in individuals serving as principals for multiple schools.

This has prompted the government to question the standard of governance of the schools. In the new rules, an individual will be allowed to serve as principal of only two schools, and only with vice principals serving at each one.

Currently, schools seeking to become licensed require principals to have at least five years of experience in education-related work. To give schools enough time to find qualified principals, those that currently share principals will have five years to prepare.

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