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Education ministry council to shelve decision over Kake vet school plan

The site where Kake Educational Institution is planning to build a new veterinary department is seen in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, on June 5, 2017. (Mainichi)

The education ministry formally announced on Aug. 25 that its council will defer a decision over whether to approve a plan for a school operator headed by a confidant of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to establish a new veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture, ditching its original August deadline for the decision.

The announcement comes amid growing public criticism over allegations that Prime Minister Abe exercised favoritism over the plan by Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution to set up a vet school in a national strategic special zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. While the ministry did not disclose the reason for postponement of the decision, a source close to the school operator revealed that the ministry council deemed the vet school plan to be lacking in specifics about practical training courses.

The Council for University Chartering and School Juridical Person of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is expected to report its decision on the issue to education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in late October. The timing of the report may affect the three House of Representatives by-elections scheduled for Oct. 22, and provide ammunition for opposition parties to grill the ruling coalition during an extraordinary Diet session to be convened in late September.

Under a regular protocol, the ministry council is supposed to provide an opinion for correction if it finds any deficiencies in a submitted plan, and defers a decision on whether to approve the plan if there is only one such opinion and the deficiency in question is deemed to be correctable. Kake Educational Institution will continue to go through council examinations after filing a revised application with the ministry by the end of September based on the council's correction request. If the council judges that the flaws have not yet been rectified, it may once again defer a decision over whether to approve the plan. If this happens to be the case with the Kake group, the council is likely to file a report to the education minister in late December, possibly affecting the school's plan to recruit prospective students to be enrolled in April next year.

Kake Educational Institution filed an application with the education minister in late March on its plan to open a vet department at Okayama University of Science in a national strategic special zone in Imabari in April 2018. In response, the then education minister referred the matter to the Council for University Chartering and School Juridical Person.

The council's expert committee on veterinary science then examined documents submitted by the Kake institution over the vet school's curriculum and financial plans, and conducted on-site inspections. The committee pointed out that the vet school's admission quota of 160 in the original plan was too high, and raised questions about the graying faculty population, with many of its 70 members aged 65 or older. In compliance, the Kake group cut the admission quota to 140 and increased the number of faculty candidates by two in its revised plan. When approached by the Mainichi Shimbun, the school operator declined to comment on the matter.

According to the ministry, there have been 711 applications for the establishment of new universities and departments over the past decade. The council withheld a decision in 110 of these cases. In the end, the panel gave the green light in 89 cases, while rejecting applications in two cases. In 19 other cases, school corporations eventually withdrew their applications.

Earlier this year, education ministry documents linked to the vet school plan surfaced, including those indicating that the Cabinet Office pressured the ministry to allow the Kake institution to open the vet department in April 2018 by saying it was "the prime minister's will." The Cabinet Office, which is administering national strategic special zones, and senior officials at the prime minister's office have denied that Prime Minister Abe gave such instructions or influenced the ministry.

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