Photo/Illutration The Kyoto City University of Arts in Kyoto’s Nishikyo Ward (The Asahi Shimbun)

The Kyoto City University of Arts will make foreign students needing financial assistance eligible for the government’s relief program to help struggling students during the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of their grades.

The university’s announcement, made on May 28, comes as criticism grows of the “discrimination" against international students because of requirements of their grades or attendance. 

“We want to help students by making a comprehensive decision without making a distinction between Japanese and foreign students seeking assistance,” said Tamame Akamatsu, president of the university, on its website.

It remains to be seen if other universities and colleges will follow suit.

Under the government’s relief program, any Japanese students who are experiencing economic difficulties can apply for the payments of up to 200,000 yen ($1,870).

However, the eligibility of foreign students is limited to those whose grades are good and who have attended at least 80 percent of their classes.

Each university will compile a list of students that it recommends for the relief measure based on applications from students.

The government will provide students the relief aid through the government-affiliated Japan Student Services Organization.

Universities began accepting applications from May 19.

Although the education ministry said international students not meeting standards can apply if university officials deem that they require financial assistance, many have criticized the conditions they fall under as discriminatory.

The Kyoto City University of Arts said requirements for international students set by the government when applying for the relief measure will remain on its notice at the university’s website to make it consistent with the government guidelines.

“But ultimately, the university will decide after considering reports by students on their circumstances,” the university said.

As of April 1, 61 foreign students are enrolled at the Kyoto City University of Arts, where about 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students are studying.

Some faculty members have expressed their opposition to the university administration, which informed students of the relief program based on the conditions set by the government.

Eriko Suzuki, a professor of immigration policies at Tokyo’s Kokushikan University, said the Kyoto university’s decision is a positive move.

“While the government has set a goal of attracting 300,000 foreign students, the academic performance conditions are sending a message that they will be discarded in difficult times,” said Suzuki, who is also vice chair of the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, a nonprofit organization that supports foreign students.

“Other than the Kyoto City University of Arts, I have not heard of any university that has come up with its own policy. The decision must be encouraging to foreign students.”

Faculty members of universities and others have started an online signature-collecting campaign calling for the elimination of the academic performance conditions.

Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa, one of the sponsors of the campaign, told The Asahi Shimbun, “We want universities to be allowed to treat foreign students based on the same conditions as Japanese students.”

He added that his university has yet to decide how to address the issue.