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Univ. hopefuls from Japan's Korean schools forced to take application permission tests

Questionnaires sent to universities and junior colleges in the west Japan prefectures of Hyogo, Osaka and Kyoto are seen in Kobe's Chuo Ward, on July 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Chikako Kida)

KOBE -- University admissions tests for the 2022 academic year are underway, but students from Korean schools in Japan are still made to undergo a separate review of whether they are qualified to enter university in the country before they can even apply.

    A survey by a group of Zainichi Korean (Korean residents of Japan) lawyers, researchers and others revealed that some universities do not recognize admissions based on school recommendations when it comes to applicants from Korean high schools. An expert told the Mainichi Shimbun the review system should be revised, adding, "Children's right to learn is being threatened."

    Korean and many other schools for people of foreign nationality are classed as "miscellaneous schools" by Japan's School Education Act. As a result, their students are outside the general "expected to graduate high school" component of the college application framework.

    In 2003, the education ministry became more flexible on the right of graduates from these schools to enter universities without taking the previously mandatory Upper Secondary School Equivalency Examination. The change covered international schools mainly taught in English or other Western languages, but not Korean schools, for reasons including that Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.

    The ministry left decisions on the schools' students up to each university. This has meant that students of Korean schools are in some cases required to go through a double-application process, where they must be reviewed first to see if they can apply.

    Also, some universities are vague or have no information on this review in their admissions policy for students looking to enter the university based on a high school recommendation. Because of this, the Hyogo Prefecture chapter of the Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan examined data on academic 2021 admissions based on recommendations.

    It found that of the 146 private universities and junior colleges in the west Japan prefectures of Hyogo, Kyoto and Osaka where it was able to confirm admission requirements, 64 had insufficient written information about the applicant reviews. Furthermore, in a follow-up questionnaire, the association found that two universities including one medical school don't accept applications from Korean school students based on recommendations.

    This autumn, at least one third-year student at Kobe Korean Senior High School was asked to take an eligibility test to earn the right to submit recommendation-based applications to a vocational school in Tokyo.

    Pak Yongmuk, the school's 37-year-old guidance counselor, said that the vocational school asserted that even during a coronavirus state of emergency -- when people were asked not to travel across prefectural borders -- it would require the student to travel from Kobe to Tokyo to take the test. The student gave up on their application.

    "We asked for review of the policy for the next academic year and onwards, but we didn't get a good response," Pak said.

    During admission tests for the 2020 academic year, too, there were students who could not submit applications to a medical vocational school via school recommendation-based admissions.

    "We took classes (in high school) that were no different from Japan's educational standards," said one 20-year-old who abandoned his application to the vocational school. He was admitted to a different vocational institution.

    Seiichi Sugiyama, an associate professor at the Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "At the mercy of diplomacy and politics, children's right to learn is being threatened. The admissions eligibility review system was born of political factors."

    Lee Hongjang, an associate professor at Kobe Gakuin University who also worked on the association's survey, stated, "The education ministry should reconsider the review system and all universities, junior colleges, and vocational schools should acknowledge the applications of Korean school graduates."

    (Japanese original by Chikako Kida, Kobe Bureau)

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