Photo/IllutrationEducation minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Nov. 10 talks to reporters about the Kake Educational Institution’s plan to open a veterinary medicine faculty in April next year. (Yuki Shibata)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The education minister on Nov. 10 gave the green light to an educational institution’s plan to open a veterinary medicine faculty, despite the continuing scandal concerning its close connections to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he will “respect the recommendation” by an advisory panel to approve the Kake Educational Institution’s plan to open the faculty in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, in April under the National Strategic Special Zone system.

Although questions remain about operational aspects in the institution’s proposal submitted to the government in March, the faculty, part of the institution’s Okayama University of Science, will be the first of its kind in 52 years.

For decades, the ministry had restricted the establishment of veterinary medicine departments, citing low demand for veterinarians in Japan. But the government in 2016 decided that there is “new demand.”

However, opposition parties for months have said the Kake institution was receiving favorable treatment because it is headed by one of Abe’s close friends.

Education Ministry documents showed Cabinet Office officials putting pressure on the ministry to swiftly approve the plan, saying the instructions are “something passed on from the highest levels of the prime minister’s office” and that they are the “intent of the prime minister.”

Abe has denied playing any role in the approval process. Opposition parties were poised to further question the prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session in autumn, but Abe dissolved the Lower House for a snap election.

During closed sessions, the advisory panel, consisting of education experts and corporate executives, had assessed the proposed faculty’s courses and facilities, as well as the financial conditions and other aspects of the Kake Educational Institution.

The panel, in a report dated Nov. 9, recommended to the education minister that the faculty plan be approved.

On the same day, documents were released that showed the panel has asked officials at the Kake institution to explain their view, pointing out the “murky trend in (veterinary) manpower needs in society.”

The panel also found fault with Kake’s plans for student lab activities, the number of instructors and the relatively old age of those instructors.

According to the assessment, the panel listed eight points that need to be improved for the proper management of the faculty.

It warned the institution in May to have a wholesale review of its plan ready, according to the documents.

The institution’s proposal has been revised several times.

For example, it initially sought enrollment of 160 students in the first grade at the faculty, but the number was eventually trimmed to 140.

The Kake institution also intends to have foreign students fill 20 of the 140 slots.

Even before Hayashi gave the nod to the plan, the institution was pitching the faculty to prospective students in South Korea through a series of briefing sessions this year.

The campaign blitz says veterinarians in Japan earn “high salaries,” citing an average annual income of about 7 million yen (70 million won or $61,400) for veterinarians in their 30s.

The promotional material also says it is possible for graduates to obtain a license to practice as veterinarians in South Korea and other countries.