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The number of universities offering high school-level supplementary lessons and other special measures to cope with academic deficiencies among freshmen is on the rise, reaching 65 percent of surveyed schools in fiscal 2008, data compiled by the education ministry showed Monday.

The survey indicates that universities have been accelerating efforts to deal with a decline in the level of academic ability among students following the government’s adoption in the late 1970s of a more relaxed education policy, which led to reductions in teaching hours, critics said.

Easier university entrance examinations stemming from the declining birthrate may also have had a part in causing a decline in student performance, a ministry official said.

According to the survey conducted from last December to January on 723 public and private universities, 473 schools were found to have taken special measures to deal with students’ insufficient academic ability during the year to March 2009, including grouping classes by academic skill level and holding supplementary lessons.

The number of universities taking such steps represents an increase of 10 from fiscal 2007 and a rise of 37 from fiscal 2006. Of the 473 schools, 70 were national universities, 35 were prefectural or municipal universities and 368 were private.

Under the government’s more relaxed education policy, the content of school lessons for younger students has been reduced and universities began implementing a wider variety of entrance tests that don’t necessarily gauge scholastic ability.

As a result, universities came to face an increasing number of students lacking basic academic skills that are indispensable to pursue their majors, including economics students who don’t understand math and medical students who haven’t learned biology in high school, the critics said.

In response to criticism that the relaxed education policy has precipitated a decline in academic skills, the government has recently ditched the policy and is set to increase teaching hours for the first time in some 30 years.

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