JAPAN's top two universities are under pressure to become self-governing with full responsibility for administration, spending and development.
Tokyo and Kyoto universities at present come under the education ministry but the Ryutaro Hashimoto government is looking at an administrative shakeup that would give them their autonomy.
An administrative reform council subcommittee was originally charged with working out how to give all 98 national universities independence, but decided to restrict the idea to the leading two.
It argued that the change would improve university management and finances by cutting the number of civil servants responsible for higher education. This would liberate extra money for universities.
The education ministry has come under fire for being too far removed from universities to ensure that funds are being deployed efficiently. The idea is to make Japanese universities more competitive internationally.
But officials at the two universities are unhappy. They argue that autonomy will threaten academic and research standards and lead to higher tuition fees. Officials and academics also fear that less government money will be forthcoming and that they will be forced to raise funds and generate profits.
Hiroo Imura, president of Kyoto University, criticised the plan for three or five-yearly reviews saying it would affect the consistency of higher education and research.
Research funds could be channelled into short-term applied research projects at the expense of long-term basic research.
Shigehiko Hasumi, president of Tokyo University, said his university would oppose the plan. While accepting that reform was necessary, Mr Hasumi said that it should be with the full agreement and support of universities.