Japan to privatise university sector

July 25, 2003

The blueprint for privatising Japan's national universities into quasi-independent agencies is shortly to become law.

Parliament's upper house could introduce even more administrative and fiscal freedom for the national universities, as opposition politicians would like to be seen as more pro-reform than prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and his entrenched Liberal Democratic Party.

Independent status for the 99 national universities should be given next April when the school year begins. Privatisation will help the government achieve its goal of getting rid of tens of thousands of civil servants in administration, teaching and research.

Some effects of the legislation are already clear as universities attempt to prepare for their new status. Universities that are strong in science and technology are absorbing nearby medical colleges to allow them to compete more successfully for state research funding.

Reorganised faculties of science and technology are planning to gain backing from the private sector for start-up firms in fields such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

The government hopes that privatisation will make at least 30 of the national universities world-class institutions for research, teaching and training leaders in the future.

It is also trying to rid itself of the mandate requiring it to subsidise national universities at huge expense - privatisation is part of a larger effort to deal with the country's failing fiscal health.

Faculties, departments and programmes in the less potentially lucrative social sciences, education and humanities will be forced to seek links and even mergers with other universities and colleges.

With enrolments remaining flat or even declining, universities will solicit corporate sponsorship for foundations.

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