Japanese medical school admits rigging exams to favor men

Robin Harding
Managing director of Tokyo Medical University, Tetsuo Yukioka (L), and vice-president Keisuke Miyazawa (R) bow as they attend a press conference in Tokyo on August 7, 2018.  The Tokyo medical school on August 7 admitted entrance test scores for female applicants were routinely altered to keep women out and apologized for the discrimination after a probe.
Jili Press | AFP | Getty Images

A prestigious Japanese medical school has confessed to systematically rigging its entrance exams against women, in a scandal that has highlighted the nation's deep problem with gender discrimination.

An internal investigation found that Tokyo Medical University had for more than a decade subtracted marks from female applicants in a deliberate effort to produce more male doctors, and falsified exams to help specific individuals.

The revelations have shocked the nation and turned a spotlight on a number of other Japanese universities that admit a suspiciously small number of women.

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They show an ingrained culture of sexism in Japan, which is stuck at 114 out of 144 on the World Economic Forum's rankings of gender inequality, despite frequent boasts from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about his programme of "womenomics" aimed at boosting female participation in the workplace.

The manipulation at Tokyo Medical only came to light after prosecutors began a corruption investigation against university officials for allegedly admitting the son of a senior bureaucrat in return for government grants to the university.

"We have caused a great amount of trouble to everyone and betrayed the trust of society," said Tetsuo Yukioka, managing director of the university. "I apologize from my heart."

Mr. Yukioka said the marking down of female applicants "absolutely" should not have happened. He vowed to eradicate the practice and said the university was considering "in all sincerity" what to do about past female applicants who lost out on places.

For the crucial essay section of this year's entrance exam, which was marked out of 100, Tokyo Medical University first subtracted 20 percent from all marks. Then it gave 20 bonus marks to men who had taken the exam three times or less. So if a woman and a man had both taken the exam and scored 70 out of 100, the woman was given a score of 56 while the man was given a score of 76.

"This can only be described as serious discrimination against women and it deserves strong criticism," said the university's internal report.

Female doctors said they were outraged by the university's practices but not surprised. "I first heard rumours about universities marking down female students 10 years ago," said Ruriko Tsushima, a doctor and member of the Japan Joint Association of Medical Professional Women.

The proportion of women admitted to Japanese medical schools rose steadily until 2003 when it peaked at 33.8 percent, but has remained broadly stable since.

Whereas Japanese women have a higher pass rate on entrance exams for almost every other university subject, including physics and engineering, in medicine the pass rate is 6.85 percent for men and 5.91 percent for women.

Dr. Tsushima said her group had been trying to draw attention to the low pass rate for female applicants but got little attention before the scandal broke. "In a way we should thank Tokyo Medical University for bringing this to light," she said.

People connected to Tokyo Medical have told local media that the reason the exams were rigged was that women are more likely to quit the profession when they have children. They said this created an intolerable burden for already overworked doctors, and the university was within its legal rights to choose who it accepts.

That was not an adequate excuse, said Dr. Tsushima. "If doctors are having to work long hours to cover maternity leave, that is not a problem with the capability of female doctors, it is a problem with the system," she said.

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