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Exams rigged against female applicants in Japan

One of Japan’s leading medical schools has been automatically reducing the entrance exam scores of female applicants by 20 per cent for at least 12 years to graduate more male doctors, an independent inquiry has found.

The case has been examined in a report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

According to the BMJ, Tokyo Medical University’s acting president, Keisuke Miyazawa, admitted to the exam rigging at a press conference on 7 August after the release of a damning report by external lawyers.

“For those people whom we have caused tremendous hardship, especially female candidates whom we have hurt, we will do everything we can,” he said.

Miyazawa said that the school was considering options including financial compensation and retroactive admission of some women who would have passed without the automatic deduction. He said that he had not known of the score manipulation.

Tetsuo Yukioka, the school’s executive regent and chair of its diversity promotion panel, stood beside him.

Both men spent much of the press conference with their heads bowed in an attitude of shame.

“Society is changing rapidly and we need to respond to that, and any organisation that fails to utilise women will grow weak,” Yukioka said. “I guess that thinking had not been absorbed.”

Kenji Nakai, a lawyer who led the inquiry, said that the rigging had been ordered by the former chair of the board of regents, Masahiko Usui, 77, with the approval of the former president, Mamoru Suzuki, 69.

Both men resigned last month amid allegations that they had inflated the exam score of the son of Futoshi Sato, a health ministry official, in return for increased research funding. Usui, Suzuki, and Sato have all since been charged with bribery.

As well as discriminating against women, the school secretly penalised men who had failed the entry test more than twice before. The school had far more applicants than places – only one in 11 men and one in 33 women who tried for a place succeeded in 2018 – so multiple attempts were common.

A computer algorithm automatically deducted 20 per cent from the score of everyone taking the first multiple choice segment of the entrance exam.

Men taking the test for the first or second time were then re-awarded 20 per cent, men taking it for the third time were given back 10 per cent, and men taking it for the fourth time – plus all women – were given back 0 per cent.

The investigators also found 18 instances of applicants’ scores being inflated in return for donations to the school or bribes to its officials. In one case, a student’s mark had been raised by 49 per cent in return for a donation to the school.

Investigators examined records dating back to only 2006 so that they could report their findings earlier, said Nakai.

The principal motive for the discrimination, he said, was the perception that female doctors are more likely to quit the profession young to have children, exacerbating a doctor shortage.

Because medical graduates in Japan typically work in hospitals affiliated to their medical school, this would be a problem for the institution itself, not just for society at large.

‘Profound sexism’ among the school’s leadership also played a role, said Nakai.

The revelations have released a torrent of online criticism, much of it under the hashtag, “It’s okay to be angry about sexism”.

Female doctors in Japan have complained that staying in the profession is almost impossible after having children because childcare services are lacking and because women are expected to perform all household tasks while also working the extremely long hours demanded of male doctors.

The number of Japanese children waiting for kindergarten places this year rose to 55 000. The health ministry, which is also responsible for welfare programs, has announced plans to add 320,000 childcare places by 2021.

Suspicion is now widespread in Japan that exam rigging against women is not limited to one medical school. The education minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said yesterday that he plans to examine entrance procedures at schools around the country.

He will also decide what action to take against Tokyo Medical University after studying the report, he said.