A set of bills to turn national universities into independent administrative institutions next April made it out of the Diet on Wednesday.

The Upper House approved the bills, backed by the ruling coalition, in a plenary session. The legislation, passed by the House of Representatives in May, will take effect Oct. 1.

The move is expected to mark a major shift for higher education because it is aimed at removing government controls over national universities and colleges.

Next April, when the next academic year begins, there will be 89 universities operating as independent administrative institutions. National technical colleges, which currently number 55, will be integrated into a single independent administrative body.

About 123,000 faculty members will no longer be considered civil servants. University administrators will be divided into three groups, with outside experts making up half the members of one of them.

The reforms are aimed at introducing competition and flexibility among national universities by providing wider discretionary powers, including the ability to set tuition within a predetermined range.

But there are concerns about excessive governmental involvement over the universities’ operations as well as doubts over their envisaged autonomy — given that the education minister will draw up the midterm goals and subsidies will be based on an evaluation of research achievements.

Each university must produce a midterm plan detailing its educational and academic activities every six years.

The evaluation, to be undertaken by a panel of outside experts under the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, will affect the amount of subsidies each university receives.

While the ruling coalition supported the bills, the Democratic Party of Japan said the legislation will strengthen the government’s involvement in the operations of universities. The main opposition party presented its own bills calling for more independence at universities.

An Upper House education panel rejected the DPJ’s bills, however.

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