Gender imbalance ‘widespread’ in Japanese medical schools

Institutions say they don’t doctor their admissions, but figures tell a different story

September 6, 2018
Japanese girls
Source: Getty

Japanese men are consistently more likely to gain admittance to medical schools than their female counterparts, research by the country’s education ministry has found.

The survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), found that male applicants dominated about two-thirds of intakes.

The ministry had asked 81 medical schools for full details of their admissions processes over the six years from 2013 to 2018. The demand followed last month’s revelations that Tokyo Medical University had systematically rigged its entrance exams to exclude many women, apparently over concerns that female doctors would quit or cut their working hours to have children.

MEXT released the results of the survey on 4 September. The survey showed that male entrants outnumbered female entrants in between 58 and 71 per cent of institutions, depending on the year.

Overall, men were 18 per cent more likely to gain admission than women. The biggest discrepancy was at Tokyo’s Juntendo University, where an average of 67 per cent more men than women were admitted, Nikkei Asian Review reported.

But gaps of two or three times as many men than women were recorded in some years at Tokyo Medical School, Osaka City University and Nihon University in Tokyo. Male applicants were in the majority every year at 19 institutions, although two regional universities consistently admitted more women.

Apart from Tokyo Medical School – which has already confessed to doctoring its results – no institution has acknowledged gender-based tampering. Some explained the imbalance by suggesting that women struggled with mathematics and physics questions.

MEXT said that admissions rates in other academic departments tended to be even or to favour women slightly, Nikkei reported. The ministry was unable to offer an explanation for the male bias in medical schools, and plans extra research into institutions with large or sustained gaps ahead of a final report next month.

Gender bias is a massive issue in Japanese universities and society. Efforts to boost female participation in the workforce – given extra impetus under prime minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” policy – have largely faltered, partly because Japanese men work such long hours that they cannot make meaningful contributions at home.

Women are barely represented in the upper echelons of Japanese academia, with at least 90 per cent of professorships going to men. Nature Index reported that just 20 per cent of doctors in Japan were female, compared with an average of 46 per cent in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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