More Japanese universities face admissions discrimination claims

Tokyo Medical University not alone in rigging entrance exams to exclude women

October 26, 2018
Gender gap
Source: Getty

The rigging of entrance exams at a prestigious Tokyo medical school was not an isolated case, a probe by Japan’s education ministry has found.

An investigation into 80 medical schools has identified several universities with application processes with a “high possibility of being inappropriate”, according to a document posted on the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology website.

They include cases where additional points were awarded to some applicants at the outset, and where special treatment was given to “certain examinees such as alumni’s children”.

Other suspicious instances include those where apparently irrelevant information – such as age, gender and schooling background – was included in the documentation explaining judgements that were supposed to be based purely on exam scores.

In still more cases, top executives such as university presidents and deans sidelined lower-ranked staff – such as entrance exams managers – from decisions on whether to accept candidates.

The document, a summary of an interim report published on 23 October, does not identify the suspect universities. But The Japan News reported that Tokyo’s Showa and Juntendo universities were believed to be among those under a cloud.

The paper said that Juntendo was conducting an internal investigation into misconduct while Sowa had admitted to having “bumped up” the scores of younger applicants.

“We have asked universities to voluntarily announce any unfair admission practices and take necessary action swiftly,” education minister Masahiko Shibayama was reported to have told a press conference.

The investigation was triggered by Tokyo Medical University’s admission in August that it had systematically rigged entrance exam scores to limit the number of female students, in an apparent attempt to protect hospitals from having to rely on supposedly unreliable women doctors.

The scandal, which attracted global headlines, emerged weeks after the university’s president Mamoru Suzuki had quit over claims that he had attempted to bribe an education ministry official. 

In September, a ministry survey found that Japanese men were 18 per cent more likely than their female counterparts to gain admittance to medical schools. At Juntendo, two-thirds more men than women were reportedly admitted.

However, these sorts of gender imbalances are not uncommon in Japanese higher education. At the high-ranking University of Kyoto, for example, just one-quarter of students are female.

Sources say that such distortions reflect self-censorship rather than official discrimination, with young women instinctively avoiding institutions that they consider male bastions. Universities with internationally focused programmes, with plenty of foreign students and courses taught in English, tend to attract majority female enrolments.

The male supremacy in Japanese academia is not limited to students. Men dominate professorships and the country boasts just a handful of female university presidents. Ironically they include the new head of Tokyo Medical University, Yukiko Hayashi, who was appointed to replace Professor Suzuki.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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