International Japanese Students: Their Expectations and Learning Needs at Australian
International full fee paying students make a sizable economic contribution to the Australian
economy and the universities at which they enroll. Considerable competition for these students from
the UK and USA indicates the necessity of meeting their needs if the Australian higher education
market is to be preserved. Recent research has challenged the effectiveness of the currently
operating Australian marketisation model that focuses upon attracting students and maximizing
profits. International students, and specifically Japanese students who were the focus of this
research, are attracted to Australian university studies for a number of reasons which are analyzed.
The numbers of Japanese students studying at Australian universities have fallen since 2006, despite
Japan being potentially one of the largest international markets.
The learning needs and expectations of 51 Japanese undergraduate and postgraduate students at two
Sydney universities were analyzed using a questionnaire and semi-structured interview during their
first semester of enrollment. The expectations and needs of these students had been shaped by
growing up and being educated in Japan, a culture that values university education in different ways
to Australia, and has different views on learning and study. Analyses of Australian academic culture,
that emphasizes individuality and critical thinking, together with analyses of Japanese values and
cultural mores, provided the foundations to guide the study and help formulate the questions used to
Results revealed a considerable proportion of respondents were postgraduates contrary to the
expectation that the market is chiefly an undergraduate one. It was found that only approximately
thirty per cent of students had come to Australia for primarily educational reasons. The other
seventy per cent had been attracted to Australia the country and its culture, and had been motivated
for personal development reasons and to satisfy challenges pertaining, in some cases, to English
language acquisition. These findings reflect earlier research based on ESL classes. The majority
appear to have been motivated by liberal education reasons, with explanation of the process engaged
in, with so little serious preparation, perhaps best accounted for in terms of Hart’s (1999) work on
the hero’s personal journey with its substantial challenges.
Results indicated that a considerable number of students at both undergraduate and postgraduate
levels experienced difficulties with a number of basic academic skills expected at Australian
universities. These included listening to and understanding lectures, note taking in lectures, reading
for assignments, writing assignments, discussing studies with Australian students, and group work
activities generally that required public presentation and argument. The majority had done little
reading or other preparation for their educational adventure in a foreign Australian culture, although
many were aware of the fact that their undertaking would be hard, having spoken to other Japanese
students. Relatively few appeared to have been influenced by family members who had undertaken
international study. All had been admitted on the basis of IELTS or TOEFL standards set by the
universities, but had studied English in preparation for their international studies for relatively short
periods of time, with this apparently contributing to their problems with Australian academic skills.
Findings indicate that most of these students continued to frame their intercultural experience in
terms of the Japanese cultural scenario, leading in many cases to academic and socio-cultural
expectations at odds with Australian university expectations of the roles these students should play.
Specific recommendations are made regarding the need for university policies to ensure that
Japanese students are made aware of academic and socio-cultural differences and challenges before
enrollment, and are offered programs that will develop specific academic skills. The analyses of the
culturally-based academic learning difficulties encountered by students in this research should
provide a substantial guide for specific skill development programs. Some of the expectations, that
would be appropriate in the Japanese cultural setting, cannot be accommodated in the Australian
one, and need to be managed prior to enrollment.
On the wider policy level, there is also a serious need to reconsider the standards of English required
for admission. Recommendations are made for a larger scale, longitudinal study to be undertaken to
address issues that could not be considered in what was essentially an exploratory study. The
analyses of Japanese cultural values and social expectations, presented as part of this research,
would appear to offer a substantial basis to assist institutions and staff to better understand Japanese
students and their learning needs in the Australian academic cultural context, and to guide both
research and teaching.
In policy terms, results indicate that there is a clear need to reconsider the marketisation model and
spend more on support services for the students who have paid full fees. Results also indicate that
the policies advanced by government policy makers linking tourism and university study are
relatively naïve, and cannot succeed without better understanding of the needs and expectations of
international students from different cultural backgrounds, and better support services carefully
tailored to their needs.