The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


JULY 2014
Ties that Bind; Trade that Blossoms
By Andrew Wylegala and
Sara Harriger

In January Ambassador Caroline Kennedy assigned educational services as priority homework for her Embassy Economic-Commercial Task Force’s first semester.

During President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Japan he announced a plan to double bilateral student exchange by 2020.

On September 13, 2014, the Public Affairs Section will host the fourth America Expo—the largest US college fair in Japan. What is it with this bookishness?

Educational exchange has for decades been the bedrock of the US–Japan relationship, anchoring unshakable human ties. Yet, over 15 years, there has been a 57 percent drop in the number of Japanese studying in the United States, mirroring a decline in overall study abroad by Japanese.

According to an Institute of International Education report, over 47,000 Japanese studied in the United States in 1997–’98, but fewer than 20,000 did so from 2011–’12.

From 1994–’99, Japan was the top source of foreign students on US campuses. Now, Japan is seventh, behind China, India, and South Korea. Furthermore, although the number of Americans studying in Japan has grown, it remains too small.

There are many reasons to promote exchanges and educational services trade, not least that this is big business.

Education is the United States’ fifth-largest services export, bringing over $24 billion in annual revenue. Direct benefits come from jobs created and expenditures on airline tickets, tuition, and taxes.

The indirect benefits are diverse, too. In addition to cultural and political understanding, we gain talent and a greater affinity abroad for US solutions. It’s no small wonder Embassy agencies hit the books hard to support the sector—and work to counter the downward drift.

CULCON, a bi-national advisory panel that strengthens the cultural and educational foundations of the US–Japan relationship, established a task force in April 2012 to reverse the decline.

It found that Japanese youth want to study in the United States, but face barriers including out-of-sync academic calendars and difficulty transferring credits, low English ability, costs, and Japanese employers that undervalue a study-abroad education.

The Embassy aggressively supports exchanges by giving frequent talks at schools. Another support component is EducationUSA, the State Department’s free, unbiased advising network, with seven centers across Japan.

Japanese youth councils advise at monthly “America Dialog” events, link promising students with US diplomats through “Embassy Academy” seminars, and distribute online content from Japanese students about life on US campuses.

Finally, the EducationUSA Academy, a joint program with the America Expo, trains 50 Japanese teachers on advising skills. The Embassy’s support for the TOMODACHI Initiative public-private partnership is also invaluable.

On top of 45 new exchange programs, TOMODACHI offers the drawing power of top corporations.

The Commercial Service, Japan (CS-J) focuses on US-bound traffic and helping US schools and related firms establish or grow here.

CS-J has expanded outreach, representing US universities at fairs in Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Nagoya. Our specialists make matches at the “wholesale level” between schools and pre-qualified education agents, or partner universities. Boston’s Suffolk University, for example, used our Gold Key Service to boost their Japanese student enrollment by 40 percent.

In contrast to reductions in long-term study, we see growth in short-term programs, including language, technical, and corporate training.

Niches abound: while the United States is lauded for tertiary education, we have special needs and distance-learning that is first-class.

And every November, CS-J organizes a fair for the Association of Boarding Schools. Educational travel and the intellectual pursuits of the “grey panthers” of the Japanese demographic are promising, too.

We are also advocates for rules that facilitate healthy trade, investment, and exchange. Ongoing efforts include seeking the same tax treatment for foreign colleges in Japan that their Japanese counterparts enjoy, and promoting global benchmarks for English testing, such as the TOEFL exam.

In educational exchange and business, Japan and the United States enjoy a rich legacy, great products, and vast potential. At the same time, we face headwinds in declining or insufficient levels of student traffic and institutional constraints.

The Embassy looks forward to working with Journal readers, ACCJ committees and others to climb back on top of the grading curve. •