The education ministry is pushing university reform based on a U.S. model. As I wrote in April, the ministry in 1990 introduced a policy of sharply expanding graduate school admission quotas. In the next year, it relaxed undergraduate restrictions in graduate-level liberal-arts programs, allowing even freshmen students to take courses in specialized subjects.

In the 2004 school year, national universities were converted into independent educational corporations. At the same time, the education ministry started implementing an annual 1 percent cut in grants for university operating expenses (personnel and nonpersonnel expenses) while offering a commensurate raise in research expenses known as “competitive funds.” It began to supply generous research funds — hundreds of millions of yen each — for a limited number of selected projects. The ministry also encouraged universities to adopt a fixed-term employment system for teaching staff.

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