Those who haven’t been hitting the books hard might need to severely pinch their pennies.

The coronavirus has severely disrupted the Japanese economy, but many companies are coping as best they can by allowing employees to telecommute. However, working from home isn’t an option for many in the restaurant, retail, and other service industries, and many of those now unable to work are students who no longer have part-time jobs to go to.

This week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a stimulus package that will supply students facing economic hardships a grant of up to 200,000 yen (US$1,870), saying “Students struggling in poverty have no secondary budget to fall back on.” The money will be available not only to citizens of Japan but foreign students studying in the country as well, but it looks like there’s going to be an extra hurdle the latter group is going to have to clear before they can receive a grant.

News organization Kyodo reports that Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology wants the grants to be given only to the top 30 percent of academic performers among foreign students. “Many foreign students will eventually return to their own countries, and we have decided that a requirement is that the grants be given to those students who will be making future contributions to Japan,” Kyodo quotes a ministry spokesperson as saying.

The logic seems to be that foreign students with the highest grades are the most likely to secure employment in Japan after finishing their studies, thus directly contributing to the economy and paying taxes to the Japanese government. In contrast, no such requirement has been suggested for Japanese students hoping for a grant.

On one hand, at its core the concept of giving preferential treatment to academic high performers isn’t all that strange. There are many scholarships, research grants, and fellowships that are awarded strictly on the basis of academic merit. A key difference, though, is that the coronavirus pandemic-triggered loss of part-time jobs and income is an economic hardship that’s occurring after students have already committed to and begun programs in Japan, with what might have otherwise been feasible budgets thrown into disarray by circumstances beyond what anyone had imagined.

There is a silver lining for foreign students in need, in that it seems that the ministry plans to leave the determination of whether or not grant applicants are in the top 30 percent academically up to individual institutes of learning, and thus enforcement may not be entirely strict. For the time being, though, the situation is a sobering example of why it’s always best to build as much of a cushion as you can into your budget when moving to another country.

Sources: Kyodo via Hachima Kiko, NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko
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