Photo/IllutrationA huge number of foreign students dropped out of Tokyo University of Social Welfare during a two-year period. Their whereabouts remain unknown. (Seiko Sadakuni)

The education ministry and Immigration Services Agency are threatening to rescind student visas unless universities exercise stricter oversight of their foreign enrollment.

New measures were announced June 11 following revelations that 1,610 foreign students had dropped out of Tokyo University of Social Welfare (TUSW) between the 2016 and 2018 school years.

It is assumed that the students stopped turning up for lectures because they had found paid work. Their whereabouts are unknown.

At a June 11 news conference, Masahiko Shibayama, the education minister, acknowledged the delay in discovering that so many foreign students had bolted was in part due to an expectation that universities could be trusted to keep track of their intake.

A sharp increase in non-regular foreign students at TUSW shows there was a clear attempt to skirt education ministry guidelines. Ordinarily, universities have quotas and the number of foreign students has to come within them for each faculty.

However, TUSW not only established a separate category of faculty research students for foreign nationals, but offered a two-year Japanese language course that it set up by simply informing the ministry of its plans. There was no need for a stricter evaluation by the ministry of curriculum guidelines and other regulations.

While there were only 39 faculty research students in the 2015 school year, the figure increased to 1,201 the following year and to 2,656 in 2018.

Likewise, while there were 186 foreign students in the Japanese language program in 2013, the figure rose to 1,495 in 2018.

The education ministry has asked TUSW not to accept new faculty research students in light of the mass exodus. The Immigration Services Agency also said it will not grant student visas to those applying to be a faculty research student at TUSW.

Of the 1,610 foreign students who bolted between the 2016 and 2018 school years, 1,113 were faculty research students and 408 attended the Japanese language program.

In the future, universities found to be lax in their oversight of foreign students will be instructed to promptly improve their practices. Failure to act will result in the education ministry informing the Immigration Services Agency, which, in turn, will stop granting student visas for those planning to enter the institution in question. The names of universities that do not revise their practices will also be released as a shaming measure.

Similar measures will also be implemented for vocational and other specialized schools that come under the jurisdiction of prefectural governments.

The government has established a goal of accepting 300,000 foreign students by 2020. However, there have been numerous cases of foreigners entering on student visas but spending more time working than getting an education.

That led the Justice Ministry in 2018 to tighten the standards for establishing Japanese-language schools.

From this spring, the education ministry also required universities to submit more detailed regular reports on foreign students who have been expelled or dropped out. The universities are being asked to explain the reasons for expulsions and why some students are unaccounted for. The universities will be obliged to state whether they reported those cases to the Immigration Services Agency.

Other universities that have large foreign enrollments said the education ministry's new policy would not affect their operations.

Ritsumeikan University has about 3,000 foreign students at its various campuses, but an official said the university was already enforcing strict measures that fall in line with the latest directive. The official said there would be no effect on accepting new foreign students.

(This article was compiled from reports by Ryo Miyazaki, Seiko Sadakuni, Ari Hirayama and Fumio Masutani.)