One of Japan’s most prestigious medical universities marked down tests from female applicants as they were considered more likely to leave the profession after getting married and having children.
In a growing scandal that has triggered widespread anger and reflection over gender equality in Japan, Tokyo Medical University was also found to have accepted bribes to inflate the results of “priority” male applicants whose families were linked to the institution.
Critics declared "Japanese society is eating itself alive" as they decried the conclusion of an investigation into the university, with the managing director of the school admitting: "We have betrayed the trust of the public”
The investigation was triggered when prosecutors in July indicted Futoshi Sano, a former director general at the education ministry, on charges of helping the university secure Y35 million (£242,949) in government subsidies in exchange for a place for his son at the college.
The probe quickly ballooned to reveal that a number of male students classified as “priority” applicants – often children of graduates of the university – had their test scores revised upwards to ensure they would have a place at the university and bring in donations from the parents, the report released by the investigators on Tuesday revealed.
At the same time, university officials subtracted points from the test scores of every female applicant to the university. Officials even worked from a manual detailing how the scores were to be manipulated and indicating that the aim was to keep the number of female students at the university to around 30 per cent of the total.
Senior university officials believed that male doctors were preferable because women were more likely to leave the profession after getting married and to have children.
The university has a network of affiliated hospitals and there was concern that women would cause staffing shortages when they stopped work or took time off to raise children.
Initial reports suggested the policy had been implemented in 2011, although the investigation traced the first cases back to 2006, Kyodo News reported.
“This is a really regrettable incident”, said Kenji Nakai, a lawyer who took part in the investigation.
“By deceptive recruitment procedures, they sought to delude the people taking the tests, their families, school officials and society as a whole.
“There were also factors suggesting very serious discrimination against women”, he said, adding that the investigation has not yet been able to determine how many women missed out on places at the university.
The probe has reportedly laid the blame for the university’s discriminatory policies on Masahiko Usui, the 77-year-old former chairman, and Mamoru Suzuki, 69, the former president.The report into the scandal stated that they accepted money from the parents of applicants who were later granted places at the university.
Both Usui and Suzuki stepped down from their positions in July and have since been indicted on charges of bribery.
Other school officials not accused of wrongdoing in the investigation have denied all knowledge of any inappropriate action towards applicants.
“We have betrayed the trust of the public”, admitted Tetsuo Yukioka, managing director of the university, at a press conference at which he bowed deeply to demonstrate his regret.
“Society is changing rapidly and we need to respond to that, and any organisation that fails to utilise women will become weak”, he said.
School officials have stated they will consider compensating students who were not granted places because of their gender.
The scandal has caused anger in Japan, where the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a series of measures to promote equality and empower women in society.
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Seiko Noda, the minister of women’s empowerment, said the university officials’ actions havd been “disturbing”.
“It is extremely disturbing if the university did not let women pass the exams because they think it is hard to work with female doctors”, she told national broadcaster NHK.
In an editorial, the Asahi newspaper criticised the university for discriminating against female candidates – but suggested that the case may not be an isolated one.
“It is hard not to wonder whether this university is the only organisation in this country that puts up barriers to women’s career development without tackling the structural problems that make it hard for them to continue working while taking care of family matters and children," it said.
Cmmentators online demanded that the university be shut down because “there is so much fraud and corruption that their course and degrees are tainted and cannot be trusted”.
A poster on the Japan Today website said the case is the “perfect example of how Japanese society is eating itself alive” by effectively penalising women in the workplace due to their gender.
"Women are pitied if they don’t, but Japanese women who are married and working and have kids end up sleeping less than anybody in the world," said another poster. "To now hear that even our skills are suppressed makes me shake with rage."
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Another said: "I ignored my parents, who said women don’t belong in academia, and got into the best university in Japan. But in job interviews I’m told ‘If you were a man, we’d hire you right away.’
"My enemy wasn’t my parents, but all society itself."