The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Japanese medical school does an about-face after lowering women’s test scores to help men

Tokyo Medical University President Yukiko Hayashi, right, talks to reporters on Wednesday about the school's previous practice of lowering women's entrance exam scores to keep the percentage of female students lower than men. (Kyodo News via AP) (AP)
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Tokyo Medical University, one of Japan’s top medical schools, spent years purposely rigging women’s entrance exam scores in order to ensure that some of them couldn’t attend the prestigious school.

Now, the university’s administration is walking back its controversial policy, offering spots to 101 people who were wrongly denied entrance in the last two years, Japanese news outlets reported this week.

Earlier this year, the medical school acknowledged lowering exam grades of female applicants in order to keep the percentage of female students lower than men. The school said it had lowered women’s grades and inflated men’s results due to a doctor shortage in Japan, as some female doctors there have left the profession once they become mothers, causing staffing issues at Japanese hospitals.

The university’s recently appointed president, Yukiko Hayashi, said at a news conference on Wednesday that out of the 101 students offered spots, the school only has room for 63. Applicants have until the end of the month to decide if they want to accept a spot, although some have already started their studies elsewhere.

Tokyo Medical University deliberately cut women's entry exam scores to stop them getting in. And that's been going on for at least the past decade, the university's own internal investigation has found. (Video: Reuters)

“We will conduct fair entrance exams and never allow a repeat of this inappropriate practice,” the Guardian newspaper quoted Hayashi as saying. “Nobody should be discriminated against because of gender. There are many female doctors who are doing a wonderful job.”

But experts say that rigging test scores in order to impact the Japanese workforce is inappropriate.

“It’s a systematic problem in Japanese society that we’re not supporting our mothers, but . . . this is the worst possible way to fix the problem,” Yusuke Tsugawa, a Japanese doctor who is an assistant professor medicine at UCLA, told the Post in August.

Hifumi Okunuki, who teaches at Japan’s Sagami Women’s University, wrote in an op-ed for the Japan Times that she was “flabbergasted” by the realization the university was systematically discriminating against women -- noting the challenges and preparation it takes to even get to the point of taking an entrance exam for medical school.

“We should really take a long, hard look at how unfair this score fraud is to female students, just as the corporate quit-upon-marriage and gender-based retirement age systems of yore were,” she wrote. “Most importantly of all, the women who were bumped to make way for the boys need to be given immediate and proper redress.”

Indeed, some female applicants have requested they be compensated over the scandal.

As for the men whose grades were inflated and may not have deserved entrance at all? At Wednesday’s news conference, Hayashi apparently declined to comment on what would happen to them.

Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

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