Four public universities marked a historical first for Japan on Tuesday when they merged into two to cope with a new era of competition, officials of the schools said.

The University of Library and Information Science was absorbed by the University of Tsukuba, both based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, while Yamanashi Medical College was absorbed by Yamanashi University, both in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Another 20 universities plan to merge into 10 next October.

A number of schools have been discussing mergers because the government plans to turn public universities into independent administrative corporations in April 2004, for which subsidies will be allocated based on merit and performance.

Education minister Atsuko Toyama, who was retained in Monday’s Cabinet shuffle, has called for universities to restructure and merge.