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Roughly half of 92 national university presidents predict some form of tuition hike after their schools become independent administrative institutions in fiscal 2004 and are allowed to determine how much they will charge students, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Nine of the presidents surveyed said they expect schoolwide increases after the proposed arrangement, now being debated in the Diet, 37 said they anticipate rises that may be limited to some departments within a university, and 34 said they think there will be no rise.

Asked whether they are considering raising tuition fees at their own universities, only one president answered affirmatively.

About a quarter of them said they are thinking of leaving their tuition fees at the current level, and 66 said they have yet to begin discussions on the matter.

At present, students attending national universities pay a uniform tuition of 520,000 yen a year.

The House of Representatives approved a set of bills to turn national universities into independent administrative entities in May. The House of Councilors is now discussing the bills.

If new laws are enacted, the universities will become independent entities in April, and about 120,000 faculty members will no longer be civil servants.

The envisioned reform aims to introduce competition among national universities by providing them each with wider discretionary powers, including setting tuition fees within a predetermined range.

But some experts have expressed concern that the change might make the operations of universities more business-oriented and increase the burden on students.

Of the 97 national university presidents, 92 responded to the survey.

Of these, 43 said the timing of the universities becoming independent bodies is right. But 17 said the envisioned change should be put off until sometime after fiscal 2005 as they think their universities are not yet prepared for the transformation.

The survey found 69 of the presidents are concerned about whether the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is capable of fairly judging the quality of each university’s education program.

Under the plan, each university must produce a medium-term plan and a government panel will periodically evaluate the institution. The evaluation will affect the amount of subsidies each university receives from the state.

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