The widening income gap is affecting higher education
Students from lower income households have always been able to turn to public institutions of higher learning to make their dreams come true. Public universities, whether national, prefectural or municipal, offered high quality education for much less money. However, a recent survey by a research group at the University of Tokyo has found that the well-publicized widening income gap is now being reflected in public university enrollments.
The survey received 1,064 responses from parents of children who graduated high school in the spring of 2012. Households where the annual income was ¥4 million or less were classified as low income, while those whose annual income was ¥10.5 or more were classified as high income.
The percentage of low income students who advanced to a public university last year was 7.4, while the percentage of high income students who did the same was 20.4. In other words, the enrollment rate for higher income students was almost three times that of lower income students.
The research group conducted the same survey in 2006. In that year, 9.1 percent of the lower income students went on to public universities while 11.9 percent of higher income students did, a negligible difference. At the same time the ratio of lower income to higher income students who went on to private universities hasn’t changed significantly since 2006, when the research group concluded that public universities were fulfilling their mission of providing educational opportunities for lower income students. The group can no longer draw such a conclusion.
The reason for the widening gap is that more higher income students are applying to public universities because even they feel the need to save money. Public universities have a limited number of openings for new students, and higher income students tend to do better on entrance tests because they can afford supplemental education, such as juku (cram schools), which lower income students can’t afford.
The survey also asked those parents who thought their children’s academic achievements were “high” whether or not their children actually went on to university. Among these respondents, in 2006, 67 percent of lower income students and 72.9 percent of higher income students advanced to university; while in 2012 the respective portions were 53.3 percent and 76.9 percent.
The research group has called on the education ministry to provide more financial assistance to lower income students so that they can attend and afford university. In 2011 the average annual tuition for a public university was ¥540,000 and for a private university ¥860,000.