In a brewing scandal that has shaken the public’s trust in the fairness of university entrance exams, the education ministry has reported that several more institutions are suspected of discriminating against women and those taking the tests multiple times while favoring certain applicants, such as relatives of alumni, in admissions for their medical schools. The ministry would not disclose the names of the universities in question, on the grounds that the probe is still underway, and has urged the institutions to voluntarily account for their problematic entrance exam practices. Since applicants are already in the final stages of their preparations for the entrance exams to be held next spring, prompt actions by the universities are in order to avoid any confusion or uncertainty on the part of the hopefuls.

In its probe into around 80 universities with medical schools across Japan, triggered by malpractice uncovered earlier at Tokyo Medical University, the ministry said suspected cases of improper practices in entrance exams have been identified in an unspecified number of other universities. The misconduct included favoring students just coming out of high school during the document-screening portion of the application process; unfairly treating female applicants and those trying to enter the school for the second time or more, even though they performed as well as others in the paper exams; and admitting the sons and daughters of school alumni even though their paper exam scores had fallen short. In another example of “suspicious” practices, the ministry cited the case of a university that required applicants to list in their application forms the jobs of their parents and other relatives as well as the names of the schools from which they graduated.

It would be inexcusable if the universities manipulated the exam scores of certain applicants without rational grounds or advance explanations to the applicants. These alleged practices undermine equality in education opportunities and fairness in entrance exams.

The malpractice in the exams at Tokyo Medical University came to light through an in-house probe launched in the wake of a bribery scandal involving its top officials and a senior official of the education ministry, who allegedly provided favors to the university in selecting the school for the government’s research subsidy program. In return, his son’s scores in last spring’s entrance exam for the university’s medical school were padded to enable his admission.

The lawyers conducting the in-house probe found out that the university had been systematically deducting points from the exam scores of female applicants for years to restrict their numbers in its medical school. The reported logic behind the malpractice — that the university wanted to avoid a future shortage of doctors at its affiliated hospitals because female doctors tend to quit early or take extended leaves after marrying or having children — led to the education ministry’s probe into suspicions that other universities with medical schools have similarly discriminated against female applicants for the same reason.

The discrimination against women in the school’s entrance exams is believed to have been going on since at least 2006. The probe also exposed that the university added points to the test scores of 19 applicants over the past two years. Such favored applicants included the sons and daughters of people who had graduated from the school — as the university counts on alumni donations.

After the ministry launched its probe into other schools, Showa University admitted that it had discriminated against applicants who were taking the entrance exam for the third or more times while favoring the relatives of its alumni. Juntendo University has also said it is looking into suspicions cited by the education ministry that it unfairly treated female applicants for its medical school. The ministry says more schools are suspected of engaging in inappropriate practices in their entrance exams. The allegations are all the more troubling since all the universities except for Tokyo Medical University had earlier told the education ministry they do not engage in unfair practices.

The lawyers probing the malpractice at Tokyo Medical University have said that a total of 69 applicants in its entrance exams in the past two years, including 55 women, were denied admission to its medical school due to the manipulation of the exam results, and urged the university to promptly consider admitting them or providing them with compensation. Other universities, if they committed similar malpractice in their entrance exams, should also weigh relief measures for applicants unfairly denied admission. Such steps will be necessary to restore trust in the overall fairness of university entrance exams.

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