Emirati sales executive Abdullah Ahmad Al Suwaidi, 30, has always been fascinated by Japanese anime, manga and video games, but it was in 2002, when he started studying Japanese that his interest in this unique Asian culture was piqued.
“My interest in Japanese pop culture is a big reason I wanted to learn the language,” says Al Suwaidi, who enrolled for a bachelor’s degree programme in Liberal Arts at the prestigious Nihon University’s College of International Relations in Japan in 2009 after graduating from Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Model School. “It was simply the best part of my life to study in Japan,” says the Abu Dhabi resident, who prepared a graduation presentation on the intercultural communications between the UAE and Japan.
“During my six years’ stay in the country, I observed its traditions associated with ceremonies and celebrations,” says Al Suwaidi, who works at Adnoc, dealing primarily with clients from Japan and the Far East. “Today, I take immense pride in teaching the custom of Japanese tea ceremony in Arabic in the UAE capital.”
Al Suwaidi is among a small but significant number of students from the UAE who have now started to explore educational opportunities in Japan. According to Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE), 72 Emirati students are currently pursuing degree programmes, while 159 students are studying various non-degree programmes in Japan. What’s encouraging UAE students to look beyond popular study destinations in the West and venture so far away from home for college?
“Japan offers a whole new perspective, experience, language and a network of academic, social and business engagement to UAE students,” says Tokuya Kanamori, General Manager, JICE Abu Dhabi Office. “Many students have already created an affinity with Japan through martial arts, pop culture and animation. This social interest has led many to further explore it academically and socially. Japan is also a very welcoming and safe place for foreigners.”
According to Japan Student Services Organisation, more than 200,000 international students pursued courses in the country in 2015, of which 152,062 were in higher education institutions and 56,317 studied at language institutes.
The biggest strength of Japan’s education system lies in its pragmatic and scientifically oriented courses that prepare students for the future job markets. “Japanese tertiary education is conducted within a study group format, where students are not left on their own,” says Dr Takashi Hoshide, a representative from Akita University.
“This has great advantages for all involved, especially for international students as they always have a ready academic and social support group.”
While most undergraduate courses are taught in Japanese, requiring a level of proficiency in the language, many English language courses are available at the master’s level. Undergraduate courses in the fields of mechanical, aerospace and civil engineering, medicine, environmental studies, business, information and communication technology have been the most popular programmes for UAE students.
“Emirati women are also showing interest in studying in Japan, which is a great development,” says says Kanamori. “This has even resulted in Ochanomizu University, a renowned women’s university, coming to the UAE to promote its courses.”
Along with a sound infrastructure and globally relevant higher education system, competitive tuition fees is another factor driving demand for Japan as a study destination.
“Academic fees in Japan are not as high as those in the US and the UK,” says Kanamori. While average annual tuition fees in the US are $33,215 (Dh121,992) according to a HSBC study, tuition fees in Japan are just about $5,000 for national universities and twice as much for private schools.
“Not only are the fees cheaper in Japan than any American University and most European institutes, scholarships are also available for students,” says Masaaki Hodota, Manager of the International Division of the Tokyo City University.
Education and exchange of know-how are key components of the bilateral relations between Japan and the UAE. “Japan has agreed on receiving 500 UAE students over the next five years in a joint statement issued during the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the UAE in 2013,” says Kanji Fujiki, Japanese Ambassador to the UAE. “Both countries are diligently working to achieve this goal.”
It is interesting to note that the demand for Japanese education is growing not only at the higher education level but also at the elementary and junior high school levels.
The Japanese School in Abu Dhabi has 25 Emirati students, accounting for a third of its total students.
JICE has undertaken a number of initiatives in the past few years to create awareness about Japanese courses in the UAE. “Promotional activities and events are held throughout the year to allow prospective UAE students meet directly with some of Japan’s leading universities,” says Kanamori. “These include exhibiting at Najah, the UAE’s leading higher education exhibition, and conducting Study in Japan events.”
Furthermore, JICE has established internship programmes with a number of UAE tertiary institutions including Masdar Institute, Petroleum Institute and Khalifa University, where their students are able to visit some of Japan’s best universities for internship study programmes. JICE also supports the Japanese language courses at a number of UAE institutions.
Cost of studying in Japan
- While the average annual tuition in Japan is around $5,000 (Dh18,363) for national universities and twice as much for private schools, the average monthly expense for a student living in Japan is around $800. This can, however, go up in metropolitan areas.
- An extensive financial assistance programme is available, which comes in two variations. This is available for eligible international students wishing to study in Japan. The two variations include a Tuition Exemption/Waiver Programme and a Scholarship Programme.