November 13, 2012 

Today the Institute of International Education (IIE) released its 2012 Open Doors Report, which annually tracks study abroad trends worldwide.  The report shows that in the 2011/12 academic year, 19,966 students from Japan studied in the U.S. This represents a 6.2% decline from the previous year (2010/11) when 21,290 Japanese students were enrolled in academic study abroad programs.  According to the IIE report, “Japan is the seventh leading place of origin for students coming to the United States.  From 1994/95 until 1998/99, Japan was the leading sender of students to the United States.”

IIE also measured American student studies in Japan and reported that in the 2011/12 academic year, 4,134 students studied in Japan.  This represents a 33% drop from 2010/2011 when 6,166 American students studied in Japan.  That year realized a 6.6% increase from the previous year.

At first glance, these statistics are alarming.  No doubt, the continuing downward trend of Japanese students studying in the U.S. is noteworthy and troublesome.  At the same time, it’s also worth noting that the 6.2% decline is less than more precipitous drops in recent years.  The Open Doors report reminds us that 2009/10 (24,842 students) and 2010/11 (21,290) numbers showed double digit percentage drops 15.1 and 14.3 respectively.  The 6.2% drop might suggest that there is reason for optimism.

The 2011/12 reports of American students’ overseas study may be influenced by the effects of the March 11 disasters.  In the years prior to March 11, Open Doors reports steady increase in the number of U.S. study abroad students going to Japan.

The steady decline in the numbers of Japanese students studying in the United States is a major concern for both the U.S. and Japan, and the reason both governments are working with non-governmental institutions to reverse the trend.  Japan and the United States have nurtured a healthy bilateral relationship grounded and developed generations of leaders in business, government and academia through bilateral educational and cultural exchanges. The future of the U.S.-Japan relationship depends on mutual understanding and trust that can only develop through first-hand people-to-people experiences.

Although the numbers of US students studying in Japan has tripled while the number of Japanese students studying in the U.S. has halved, the level of students studying in both countries is inadequate to building the future in an era of globalization.

In order to address these issues, CULCON established a Higher Education Task
Force to examine the causes of these declining levels of
exchange between Japanese and U.S. students in higher education and make
recommendations to the U.S. and Japanese governments, as well as the business community and institutions of higher learning on ways to
improve the number and quality of student exchanges. Comprised of U.S. and Japanese government and business leaders, task force members will focus its work on identifying ways to remove impediments(such as opaqueness of the U.S. university system and Japanese academic calendar); change attitudes (e.g. recognize the value of English language proficiency and international experiences); and create incentives (emphasize value of overseas experience).
The Task Force will issue its Final Report in May 2013 in Tokyo.

For further information on the Open Doors Report, please see: http://www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors.