Photo/IllutrationDemonstrators gather outside the main entrance of Tokyo Medical University in Shinjuku Ward on Aug. 3 following revelations it discriminated against female applicants. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The education ministry has uncovered discriminatory practices in entrance examinations of 10 of the 81 medical schools nationwide.

Their entrance exams were rigged against female applicants and those who previously failed twice or more, according to a survey by the ministry. One of the 10 schools was a highly suspicious case while the remaining nine involved apparent “improprieties.”

The publication of the survey findings on Dec. 14 marked the culmination of the ministry’s response to a whirlwind of exam-rigging scandals that came to light in recent months, starting with allegations against Tokyo Medical University.

But many questions and issues remain unresolved.

One unresolved case is the St. Marianna University School of Medicine, which the ministry suspects to have engaged in inappropriate practices concerning entrance exams. But the university has consistently rejected the ministry’s verdict and declared its refusal to accept any investigation by an independent body.

What does the school think about its accountability to society?

The survey has also revealed that more than 10 universities held entrance exams that, while not judged to be inappropriate, involved questionable practices. For example, at some institutions, exam chairmen were handed a list of examinees recommended by alumni and high-ranking officials of the university. It is surprising to know that so many universities have displayed such a distinct lack of commitment to fairness.

The ministry has been far too slow in conducting the survey and announcing its results from the viewpoint of the interests of students working to enter medical schools. The entrance exam season is just around the corner.

The survey has brought to the fore the grim fact that fairness in entrance exams can be so easily undermined.

An official at Tokyo Medical University, which has admitted to reducing the entrance exam scores of female applicants to maintain the ratio of male students at a certain level, explained the reason for the practice by saying, “Many female students who graduate end up leaving the medical profession to give birth and raise children, forcing their colleagues to bear an additional burden.”

Some members of the medical community even voiced support of the university’s argument.

But this is an extremely unfair stance toward female doctors. Universities and hospitals should focus their efforts on making the work environment friendlier to female staff.

Entrance exams for almost all medical schools involve interviews to assess the applicants’ aptitude for the profession. But evaluations based on interviews are inevitably susceptible to subjective and arbitrary judgment.

Effective measures should be taken to eliminate subjectivity and arbitrariness from evaluations as much as possible, such as reviewing the gender ratio and age structure of the jury and installing procedures for preventing any specific person from having special influence on the decisions.

In response to the survey findings, the ministry announced its basic views and positions concerning fair entrance examinations. The core principle is that factors such as age, past examination failures and birthplaces, let alone gender, should not be used as criteria for determining successful candidates.

There are, to be sure, public exams that restrict the number of times an applicant can sit for them, including the bar exam. But the rule has been introduced after open debate on the reason explained to the public.

There is no disputing that secretly reducing the entrance exam scores of a certain category of applicants, such as students who failed and have been working to try again, is unacceptable.

How about favoring students from local communities, then?

It is indeed important for local communities to secure doctors willing to work in the areas. In such cases, however, the favorable treatment of local applicants should be made clear in the application handbook. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to deceiving the applicants.

This is not an issue for medical schools alone. The planned reform of university entrance exams, designed to ensure more multifaceted evaluations instead of simple competition for higher test scores, will certainly cause universities to face the tough challenge of drawing a line between acceptable and unacceptable judgments based on subjective evaluations.

Universities should discuss the issue to adopt a common, convincing approach to tackling this challenge.

It would also help prevent unfair practices if universities disclose more detailed information about the results of their entrance exams for public scrutiny, including the gender ratios of all and successful applicants.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18