While the FUTI Scholarship Programs were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, they generated mixed outcomes in 2021. In 2021, short-term summer study abroad programs involving actual travel were again cancelled both in Japan and in the US, but FUTI was able to provide support for four UTokyo students and one US student to attend online classes without travel. On the other hand, the Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI Scholarship which supports mid- to long-term studies in the US experienced a surge in demand. With the approval of the Foundation to make up for the smaller program size in 2020 (caused by the COVID-19 pandemic) we were able to support as many as 11 students in 2021.
The reason for these contrasting results was most probably a matter of timing, that is, the outlook of the pandemic for the summer when the short-term studies take place was different from that for the fall when the mid- to long-term studies typically begin. However, structural factors could also be at play. For example, not only the impact of short-term study abroad programs on a university’s overall operation is relatively minor, but also universities were deeply concerned about the safety of programs that involve a diverse body of students.
The combination of the UTokyo students’ persistent desire to study abroad and the US universities’ willingness to continue programs seems to have outweighed the concerns about the risks of COVID-19. There were also some cases where the students decided to postpone their study abroad plan for a year in 2020 because of the pandemic, but carried it out in 2021.
Due to COVID-19, our support for short-term summer programs were granted for online-only attendance without travel in 2020 and 2021. However, our current policy is not to give support for such programs starting in 2022. It is hoped that the pandemic will not worsen to the point where this new policy will have to be reversed. The decision to end support for online-only no-travel programs was based on our belief that living and interacting with people in another country is a critically important aspect of a study abroad. Additionally, it is difficult for us to accurately evaluate the quality of online-study experiences in order to make certain it justifies our financial support.
The eleven recipients of the 2021 Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI Scholarship are a diverse group made up of the following students: 1) One master’s student in a program in a joint degree program between UTokyo and a US university, 2) one pursuing a master’s degree in the US after graduating with a bachelor’s degree from UTokyo, 3) one who graduated from his master’s degree at UTokyo and is pursuing his PhD in the US, 4) four who have graduated from UTokyo in the past and are now studying abroad, 5) two who are PhD candidates at UTokyo but are temporarily studying abroad to work on their thesis, 6) one who is a 2020 recipient continuing his study, and 7) one graduate from Kyoto University pursuing her master’s degree in the US.
It is our hope that the coronavirus pandemic will not cause major disruptions in the 2022 Scholarship Programs.