The education ministry is considering a major realignment of both public and private universities ahead of an expected drop in the number of students, according to ministry sources.
It would be the first time that national, public-run and private universities could face amalgamation. In past structural reviews, only schools in the same categories were merged.
While the population of 18-year-olds is expected to fall sharply amid a general decline in the national birthrate, the percentage of those who advance to university education has remained flat at around 50 percent.
Both government- and student-derived revenue streams for private universities in rural areas will be reduced due to the fall in student numbers, with many failing to meet their enrollment, the sources said Monday.
As government subsidies for national and private universities are on the decline due to the strained state of public finances, the government may aim to curb spending by reducing the number of universities through cuts and mergers in order to better allocate funds to remaining schools, the sources said.
The education ministry is expected to ask its advisory panel, the Central Council for Education, to study the plan, probably in the fall, they said.
According to the ministry’s survey, there were 779 universities and colleges in Japan in fiscal 2015, with 86 national universities, 89 public universities and 604 private universities.
The number of private institutions is on the rise due to the easing of rules governing the establishment of universities, while the transition of some junior colleges to universities is also adding to the increase.
But a group representing private schools says that more than 40 percent of their number — mostly in rural areas — have already seen enrollment failing to reach their quotas in fiscal 2015.
The population of 18-year-olds is projected to start falling in fiscal 2018, slipping below 1 million in fiscal 2031, compared with some 1.2 million in recent years.