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Over 70% of nat'l universities opposed to gov't tuition waiver conditions: Mainichi survey

TOKYO/OSAKA -- Over 70 percent of Japan's national universities are opposed to the central government's requirements of hiring more outside directors and instructors with practical experience in order to be eligible for the system to make higher education free of charge, a Mainichi Shimbun questionnaire has found.

On the other hand, those universities that agreed with the policy only made up 10 percent of the respondents. While national universities became corporate organizations from the 2004 academic year, the results bring to the forefront the spread of the pushback against the government's interference in the academic world in the name of so-called equal opportunity in education.

The plan to make higher education free of charge was approved by the Cabinet in December 2017 as part of the "New Economic Policy Package ," and would see the government shouldering university and vocational school matriculation and tuition fees of children from low-income households excluded from prefectural and local residential taxes. The law is planned to go into effect from the 2020 academic year.

In order to meet industry needs, the government identified universities and other institutions that "have a balance between scholarly pursuits and practical education" as the targets for the program, requiring institutions to fill certain quotas for "external directors" and "classes taught by teachers with practical experience."

The survey of opinions on these measures was conducted from March through April, with the questionnaire sent to all 86 national universities in Japan. Answers were received from 72 of those schools for an 83.7 percent response rate. The University of Tokyo was among the 14 schools that declined to fill out the questionnaire.

A total of 52 schools came out against the government's requirements for the free education program. "We are aware that having human resources from outside the school is essential, but it's nonsense to make it a requirement for offering free public education," pointed out Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture. Chiba University and the University of Electro-Communications also questioned the relationship between the program and external administrators, saying, "equal opportunity in education and university reform are two different matters" and "this is illogical and unworthy of discussion," respectively.

In addition, "Staff members that have both practical experience and enough of a track record as a university educator are extremely limited," lamented Iwate University, which was echoed by other regional schools that have concerns over being able to secure the personnel the government requires. On limiting the schools eligible for the free education system, other concerns from regional universities also arose. "It is extremely unfair to enrolled students," pointed out Wakayama University, while Nagasaki University wrote, "There is a possibility that students will end up disadvantaged."

However, there were seven schools that agreed with the government's requirements, such as Gifu University, which replied, "Basic academic and practical skills are closely intertwined." Thirteen schools did not reveal their stances on the issue.

Japan Association of National Universities President and President of Kyoto University Juichi Yamagiwa commented, "Making university education free of charge and the hiring of outside administrators is unrelated, and I don't understand the government's intentions. (At Kyoto University), we already have external personnel serving on our management council, and opinions from outside of the school are being reflected."

The finalized conditions for eligibility for the free higher education program are currently planned to be summarized by June by a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology expert panel.

(Japanese original by Nanae Ito, Science & Environment News Department, and Shuichi Abe, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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