Editorials

Doctored entrance exam scores

The alleged manipulation of entrance exam scores at Tokyo Medical University to limit the number of successful female applicants, if true, is an unacceptable act by an educational institution. It is even more disturbing that the test scores were reportedly tampered with for years to keep successful female applicants to around 30 percent of the total each year — so as to avert a future shortage of doctors at the university’s affiliated hospitals because female doctors tend to quit or take long leaves of absence due to marriage or childbirth. The scandal should shed light on the work environment at medical institutions where female doctors are said to find it difficult to continue their careers.

Tokyo Medical University recently had come under fire over the alleged bribe of a high-ranking education ministry bureaucrat by the university’s top officials, who wanted his help in getting the institution selected as a recipient of the government’s research subsidy program. In return, they boosted the entrance exam scores of the bureaucrat’s son this spring. The reported manipulation of the entrance exams for female applicants is said to have come to light during a lawyer’s probe into the bribery case.

According to media reports of the latest case, Tokyo Medical University had been deducting points from the scores of the first-stage entrance exams of all female applicants to its medical school since around 2010 to reduce the number of female applicants who could proceed to the second stage.

In soliciting entrance applications for the school, the university did not openly specify a gender-based enrollment capacity. The applicants’ success rate in the entrance exam this spring was 8.8 percent among men and 2.9 percent among women, who accounted for 17.5 percent of the total successful applicants. In 2010, the success rate among male applicants was 8.6 percent versus 10.2 percent among women, who accounted for 38 percent of the successful applicants. Since 2011, however, the success rate among female applicants never topped that of men’s.

While the entire picture of the alleged malpractice has yet to be uncovered, the media reports quoted people familiar with the situation at the university as saying that the measure was intended to limit the number of female students at the medical school — and thus prevent a future shortage of doctors at the university’s affiliated hospitals.

A medical university educates prospective medical doctors — and also effectively supplies doctors to its affiliated hospitals. Since female doctors tend to resign or take long leaves after getting married or giving birth, limiting the number of female students at the university’s medical school was reportedly intended to avert a potential staff shortage at the affiliated institutions.

Government data show that an increasing proportion of students at medical schools across the country are women — from 18 percent in 1987 to 30 percent in 1997 and 32 percent in 2007, with the ratio hitting 33 percent this year. Women accounted for 34 percent of those who successfully passed the 2018 state exam for doctors.

On the other hand, female doctors have a higher chance of quitting in mid-career — 89.9 percent of male doctors continued to be on the job in the 12th year after being registered as doctors, but the figure dropped to 73 percent among female doctors, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The alleged manipulation of entrance exam scores of female applicants at the Tokyo Medical University is believed to reflect the situation surrounding female doctors.

Trying to avert a potential shortage of doctors at its affiliated hospitals may make sense from the viewpoint of managing the institutions. But it is unacceptable from the viewpoint of fairness in medical school entrance exams. There are persistent rumors that this practice is not limited to Tokyo Medical University but is also prevalent among other private universities. Efforts need to be made to shed light on the scale of the alleged practice.

Steps should also be taken to highlight the problems in the work environment at medical institutions that make it difficult for female doctors to continue to work after marriage or childbirth. Instead of seeking to restrict the opportunities for women to pursue a career in medicine at the beginning because of the hurdles they may face on the job, it makes more sense to review the work environment female doctors encounter at hospitals and remove those obstacles.