Japan's exam policy 'racist'

September 5, 2003

Japan's national universities want Korean and Chinese high-school graduates to be given the same admission concessions as those graduates of western-accredited international high schools.

Earlier this year, the education ministry declared that graduates of western-accredited international high schools could try for admission to national universities without first having to sit a qualifying "high-school equivalency" exam.

This uneven treatment of high-school graduates outside the national accreditation system has led Korean, Chinese and other foreign high schools to claim that the policy is unfair and constitutes racism against other Asians.

According to a nationwide poll, conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 77 per cent of national university presidents (74 out of the 96 polled) wished to give graduates of Korean and other foreign schools the right to apply without requiring them to sit the high-school equivalency test.

Unlike the national universities, which strictly follow the education ministry's stated policies on such matters, more than half of private and public universities now admit graduates of foreign schools without the extra test.

In an era of drastically declining high-school populations, such freedoms in decision-making give the private and public universities an advantage in maintaining enrolments.

There is also controversy over the recently granted administrative independence of Japan's 99 national universities (which are due to be reduced to 89 through mergers).

Advocates have said that the reforms, which have passed through the legislature and will take effect from October 1, are supposed to lead to greater local autonomy in the management of the universities.

Critics have pointed out that the only things the national government is giving up are long-established mandates that fund the entire system through block grants and subsidised student tuition.

If, like the private universities, national universities were able to decide who is exempt from sitting their entrance exams, it would be a sign that they were achieving freedom from government and education ministry diktats.

The education ministry has asked that all national universities adhere to its current admission policies while waiting for a ruling from higher echelons of government.

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