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Student loans in Japan: Current problems and possible solutions

Shiro Armstrong, Lorraine Dearden, Masayuki Kobayashi and Nobuku Nagase
Journal article | Economics of Education Review

The Japanese higher education sector has seen increases in tuition with stagnant household incomes in a society where family support for university students has been the norm. Student loans from the government have grown rapidly to sustain the gradual increase in university enrolments. These time-based repayment loans (TBRLs) have created financial hardship for increasing numbers of loan recipients and their families. There is some evidence that prospective students from low-income households are forgoing a university education to avoid student loan debt. The Japanese government has introduced some measures including grants and a partial income-contingent loan (ICL) scheme to help alleviate these problems.

While the ICL scheme is a positive development, this paper shows that it requires further refinement and broader coverage if it is to adequately address the challenges facing higher education financing in Japan. We show that an affordable and universal ICL system could be introduced in Japan that avoids problems with the current partial income-contingent loan scheme and would help alleviate access issues for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Importantly, the unique features of the Japanese labor market have to be carefully considered, especially the large gender wage gap for married women. By introducing dynamics into modeling graduate earnings and using carefully selected parameters, we show that it is possible to have a universal ICL which achieves a balance between access and affordable repayment with minimal long-run costs to taxpayers.