Photo/IllutrationEducation minister Yoshimasa Hayashi announces his decision to approve the opening of a new veterinarian medicine faculty in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, at a news conference on Nov. 14. (Fumio Masutani)

Education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Nov. 14 defended his decision to officially approve the opening of a new veterinary medicine faculty, rejecting the idea that favoritism was part of the process.

Opposition parties, however, are expected to express a different view in the Diet. They will continue pursuing details of the government’s handling of the faculty plan by the Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Hayashi’s approval is the first for a veterinary medicine faculty in 52 years in Japan.

The new faculty, part of the Kake institution’s Okayama University of Science, is scheduled to open in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, in April.

With an expected enrollment of 140 students, it will be among the largest veterinary medicine departments in Japan.

Hayashi noted that questions were raised in the Diet about suspected favoritism for the institution.

But he said the government has handled Kake’s plan “properly.”

“There were no flaws in it,” he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Hayashi’s decision at a news conference the same day.

“The education minister made the decision (to approve the faculty) based on the advisory panel’s recommendation,” he said.

The panel, set up at the ministry, had examined Kake’s plan since April in closed sessions before it recommended in a report dated Nov. 9 that the plan should be approved.

The governments of Ehime Prefecture and Imabari city have lobbied the central government over the years to ease regulations so that a new veterinary medicine faculty can open on the island of Shikoku. They emphasized that no veterinarian faculty exists in the island.

The Kake institution’s plan was promoted under the National Strategic Special Zone system.

Doubts have been raised about the need for the faculty because of the low demand for veterinarians, a key reason the education ministry has restricted the establishment of such faculties for decades.

Moreover, education ministry documents showed that Cabinet Office officials pressed ministry officials to accelerate the approval of Kake’s plan, saying this is “something passed on from the highest levels of the prime minister’s office.”