By SARAH GOH
Female UT students studying in school. Photo by author.
From April 2017, the University of Tokyo began offering monthly rent subsidies of ¥30,000 to newly-enrolled female students to increase the female student population which currently stands at a meagre 20% for undergraduates. The announcement of this policy last November attracted significant attention in the media and was met with mixed reception. Some people felt that this was a positive step towards gender equality on campus while others criticized it as a discriminatory measure. To evaluate the effectiveness of this policy, several female students receiving the subsidy gave an account of how the policy has affected them and their views on the issue.
To begin with, the announcement of the policy was timed to coincide with the application for entrance examinations so that more girls would be enticed to apply for the University of Tokyo. Among the three female students interviewed, all three said that this policy had no immediate impact on their decision to study at UT as they would have applied anyway. Consequently, the effectiveness of this policy seems marginal at best.
On a fundamental level, it appears as if the policy does not target the root cause of the dearth of female students. When questioned about the reasons for the low number of female students, all three female students replied that there exists a societal perception that compared to boys, girls do not have to attain high educational credentials to survive. As a result, most choose not to push themselves to enter prestigious universities. In contrast, this policy of rent subsidies offers mainly economic support and may not be sufficient to change deep-rooted social norms.
Another issue raised by this policy was the unfairness towards male students, especially those who face financial hardships. Under this policy, all female students who enrolled in April 2017 and whose home is more than 90 minutes from campus qualify for rent subsidies, regardless of their economic situation. A freshman from Oita Prefecture felt that the rent subsidies may go a longer way to help male students who are struggling financially instead of female students who may be better-off. Another freshman from Miyazaki Prefecture felt that application for rent subsidies should also be made available to male students who require financial assistance. Both students expressed a similar sentiment that regardless of gender, deserving students should not be deprived of the chance to study at UT because of financial difficulties.
However, this policy had some positive impact as it raised awareness of the gender imbalance in the student population and affirmed parents’ decision to send their daughters to the University of Tokyo. The freshman from Miyazaki Prefecture felt that the publicity surrounding the announcement of rent subsidies was akin to a “performance”, and was effective in conveying the message that the University hopes to increase the female student population. Furthermore, the freshman from Oita Prefecture commented that most parents in the countryside are reluctant to send their daughters to schools far from home. This policy of rent subsidies encourages parents to consider allowing their daughters to pursue their studies in UT, especially if they have the aptitude for it.
Moreover, to claim the rent subsidies, female students are required to stay in a dormitory or apartment which has been shortlisted by the university. A freshman from the Kansai region remarked that this made the process of finding a place much easier because she simply had to choose from one of the options proposed by the University. Additionally, female students and their parents would have a peace of mind as all the shortlisted housing meet strict criteria regarding safety and security, such as earthquake-resistant structures and security cameras.
The freshman from Kansai suggested that aside from rent subsidies, UT should hold talks in various regions to promote interest among prospective female students. She stated that most girls in the countryside do not even consider applying for UT because they lack information on the University and it feels out of reach. Currently, the University of Tokyo does hold several such events but they are simply not as well-publicised as the rent subsidies. It seems that if the university is truly keen on increasing the female student population, they should focus more efforts to appeal on the strengths of the university instead of just offering rent subsidies.