Protecting the Learning Environment of University Students
October 8, 2020
Due to the spread of COVID-19, many university students have become dissatisfied with two issues: The prohibition of face-to-face classes and the continued payment of high tuition fees despite the lack of in-person classes.
Dissatisfaction with Online Classes
Since April, most Japanese universities have conducted classes online in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Initially, while the prospect of attending classes from the comfort of one’s home may seem like a good idea, many students have become dissatisfied with online classes. Because students haven’t been allowed to travel to school where they can easily meet with their friends and professors, they have become stressed and frustrated by the inability to engage in typical university life. Freshmen, who have just begun the most important period of their academic lives, take classes without having seen the faces of their classmates.
Why Can’t Only University Students Attend School?
There is an argument that it is unfair that elementary, junior high and high school students can attend school in-person while only university students cannot. However, there are some factors that must be taken into consideration as to why they have to continue with online classes.
The most widely cited factor is that university students have a wider range of activities. On the typical university campus, students move a lot between classrooms and facilities and come into contact with many people and places due to varying timetables. Moreover, university students are not only active in academic life, but also have part-time jobs and club activities. When elementary, junior high and high school students are infected, the school name is often not reported unless a cluster occurs. On the other hand, when university students are infected, the name of the university is often reported. This is because elementary, junior high and high school students lack the independence that university students have. University students, with their wider range of activities, are at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. Therefore, university students must take responsibilities for how they engage with others during their free time. Due to the high risk in regards to the spread of the virus by university students, universities have been forced to continue conducting online classes.
Increasing Tuitions and Decreasing Incomes
Students are arguing against having to keep paying high tuition fees, despite their income being reduced by the effects of the virus. According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, average annual tuition fees for both public and private universities are increasing year by year (See Figure 1). As of 2018, the average tuition fee for national universities is 535,800 yen, with private universities at 904,146 yen, which is 0.5% higher than the 2017.
Figure 1. Average Annual Tuition Fees for Japanese Universities (yen)
Source: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
Parents’ incomes may not be sufficient to pay for rising tuitions. Because of this, most students have been required to take out student loans and have to work part-time to pay for school. However, since students cannot work at their part-time jobs due to a decrease in business as a result of COVID-19, the income of students has dropped sharply. Some financially distressed students have no choice but to take a leave of absence or quit school in its entirety. Many students are now demanding a guarantee of their right to education. In addition, some students are engaging in activism by conducting online campaigns that call upon the government to refund facility charges or exempt tuition fees. For example, the student group "Free Higher Education Project FREE" is demanding that tuitions be cut by half or that funds be set aside for the additional spending required for online lessons.
To prevent those enrolled in university from scuttling their academic career, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and some universities have provided students in tax-exempt households an emergency support fund of 200,000 yen while delivering a support fund worth 100,000 yen to students in taxable households. To receive this support, students must meet several criteria. For example, not receiving a large amount of remittance from home, part-time job income has decreased by 50% or more, and living outside of their parents' house. This support from the government will be an important step in helping students remaining enrolled in school. Therefore, students who don’t receive financial aid from home and work part-time jobs to cover tuition fees can continue to study during the pandemic without financial worries.
Adapting to the Online Learning
Most universities will continue to offer online lessons during the fall semester. It is currently unadvisable to carry out conventional face-to-face lessons, so students' dissatisfaction with universities and online classes is likely to continue.
Instead of simply waiting for in-person classes to return or lodging complaints to universities, it is also necessary to adapt to the current paradigm of online learning. For example, students can learn efficiently by taking advantage of the features of online learning such as reviewing the content of a lesson through recordings. Students can also use the time gained from not having to commute to improve their skills. In order to learn what university students want to learn and enrich their university lives, the ability to adapt to online learning has become a requirement.