The academic year that begins Thursday will mark a new era for national universities, which will be cut loose from the fetters of the education ministry and gain independent administrative institution status.

The move, part of government streamlining efforts, is viewed as the most significant change to Japan's higher education system in more than a century.

One who welcomes the development is Hitotsubashi University President Hiromitsu Ishi, who believes it will give his institution a chance to become more competitive.