This is a reprint, with editor's consent, of the content of pp. 45-47 from April 19, 2002 issue of Syukan Kin'yobi, a weekly magazine in Japanese. I should be very much obliged, if you also read the related documents at the end.

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Government rushing to incorporate national universities

Alleged "independence" may deprive universities of their freedom

Koichi Toyoshima

The government plans to implement an administrative reform that would make national universities independent from country's administration already in 2004. If this plan is executed, despite the word 'independence' in its name, it will strengthen regulation imposed by the Ministry of Education: even closing or retaining a university will be at minister's discretion. The 'academic freedom' and 'self-governance' of universities guaranteed by the Constitution and the Fundamental Law of Education are squarely defied, but despite this, the protests are very weak.


On the pretext of 'making national universities independent from country's institutions' the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (below: Ministry of Education) schemes for a frightful reinforcement of its power. Its name is 'incorporation', i.e. reforming the universities into the 'Independent Administrative Institutions'.

The Ministry's Evaluation Panel for Incorporation of National Universities and Other Units (below: Evaluation Panel) presented March 26 a final report stating that all national universities will be incorporated. Newspapers reporting about that fact are full of expressions such as 'Removing country's regulation' or 'Universities will decide about themselves' but an attentive reader must also have noticed an item called 'intermediary objectives' set by the Ministry.

Making universities into administrative institutions

The incorporation, carried out in the name of financial optimization, means splitting administrative institutions into planning and enforcement divisions, moving the former to the central government office, and offering the independence only to the latter. The 'intermediary objectives' stand for plans drafted by the planning division. Such a split cannot be considered appropriate even for an ordinary administrative institution, while universities are not administrative institutions strictly speaking. Applying such a system to universities is not only improper, but also, as I am going to argue below, is in grave conflict with the Fundamental Law of Education and the Constitution.

The 'intermediary objectives' in the proposed system should be interpreted as orders given to the universities by the Ministry of Education, i.e. the government bureaucrats. According to the above report, universities' budgets will depend on the degree of fulfillment of these objectives. Moreover, this system gives the Minister for Education a right to shut down schools, something unheard-of anywhere in the world, and assumes centralized control by the government, that was not practiced even in the prewar times. The expression 'intermediary objectives' being very abstract may mean virtually anything. Interpreting it as an imposition of 'text books approval' or 'cumulative guidance report' upon universities would not be odd.

The control exercised by the bureaucrats from the Ministry of Education on public education up to the level of high schools has long reached a firm state of completion. The freedom of teachers is severely limited, and the whole system is criticized as monolithic even by the conservatives. In case of universities, however, the ideas of 'academic freedom' and 'self-governance' have held down until now, though not perfectly, government's undertakings: the Ministry of Education (putting aside what is going on behind the scenes) has been unable to control them overtly. The enchantment of 'incorporation' is going to trigger it off with one stroke.

Defiance of universities' self-governance

When we juxtapose the current system with the proposed incorporation, it becomes clear at a glance that it has nothing to do with the 'independence'. (See the table on the next page.) Concepts such as 'intermediary objectives' or 'intermediary plans', issuing and approving them by the government offices, do not exist in the current system. If we were to search for an equivalent of the word 'objective', we could probably find what is called the 'purposes of education' in the Fundamental Law of Education. It is a law passed by the Diet, not government bureaucrats. When it comes to 'plans', under the current National School Establishment Law they are to be 'discussed' by evaluating boards at each university. If discussion is prescribed by law, it cannot merely mean that something should be talked about. Apart from the strength of its effect, discussion that does not involve any decision-making makes no sense. In case of any of the above laws, the Ministry of Education is not given any competence of that kind. The incorporation not only completely overrules the laws, but also leaves no room for participation of the Diet. In other words, it means the dictatorship of the bureaucrats.

The Center for National University Finance, conducted by Jin Osaki, former director of the Office of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education (then) has prepared a report (January 2000) summarizing the situation of universities in chief western countries. It reads that 'methods such as setting goals, approving working plans, or giving commands to modify them by the government, as proposed in the incorporation project, are not adopted anywhere else'. It also concludes that solutions like 'intermediary objectives' are unusual from the international perspective.

The changes proposed in the evaluation system also strengthen the authority of the Ministry of Education. There are various problems with the current evaluating system by the National Institution for Academic Degrees, but the administrative reform proposed by the Ministry of Education will add another evaluating body, Committee for Evaluation of National Universities. What is more, the results of its assessments will be directly related to the funds distribution for each university. This will actually mean abolition of the Diet's right to deliberate on budget bills.

What is even more severe is the minister's right to shut down schools. At one time, during student riots, the University Control Law (law for temporary measures concerning universities administration) caused a lot of argument in the Diet, when the Minister's right to suspend school's operation was provided in the law. Yet this law referred only to cases where riots could not be calmed down for a long time. The system drafted in the incorporation law has nothing to do with any riots. It only means that 'necessary measures', i.e. retaining or shutdown of a university, will be at Minister's discretion.

One of the few examples that might deserve the name of 'independence' is the accounting system, shown in the last row of the table. The fact that funds sent by the country can be used without any detailed expenditure account prescribed in advance does actually mean 'freedom', but it is assumed that the amount itself will be reduced in the name of independence, which will result in tuition fees raises. This will happen in Japan, where tuitions fees are already among the highest in the world.

The 'final report', issued by the aforementioned Evaluation Panel, contains the idea of depriving the university staff the status of civil servants. Mass media uniformly call it 'extending of freedom', but is it really true? That is to say that the status of the universities staff will no longer be secured by the Law for Special Regulations Concerning Educational Public Service Personnel, and this law is said to support the academic freedom as far as personnel matters are concerned. From the manager's point of view it definitely means freedom of employment, but it seems that the freedom of teaching staff is likely to be suppressed.

As shown above, the proposed reform, quite contrary to the word 'independence' contained in its name, means nothing but legalization of the control exercised by the Ministry of Education. If this system is implemented, the universities will, more than ever before, worry about winning bureaucrats, not people's favor. High-handed appointment of the former officials will get even more rampant and research, concentrated on producing maximal number of publications, will be aimed at short-term results. Above all, the important role of a critic that universities should play in the society will be reduced to the minimum. Looking back at our country's close past should make it clear how dangerous it is for a country to go this way.

Incorporation openly defies 'academic freedom' provided for by the Article 23 of the Constitution and 'self-governance' of universities securing their independence. It is also against the Article 10 of the Fundamental Law of Education prohibiting any control of education by the government officials. In other words, the proposed system is not so much bad as it is illegal. The fact that the Constitution or Fundamental Law of Education do not contain any penal regulations does not mean that they can be neglected.

Initially it was about public employees reduction

The incorporation was undertaken by the government to drastically reduce the number of public servants, an operation called 'adjustment' in the project of the reform. Initially, the Ministry of Education was against the incorporation, too. In October 1997, the then Minister of Education Nobutaka Machimura said at a press conference: 'The aim of independent administrative institutions consists in implementing effective ways of operation. However, the system in which the Minister sets 3-5 years objectives, in accordance with which universities prepare and carry out educational and research plans, and subsequently, when the plan is realized the necessity of further operation and foundation form are reconsidered, such system is obstructive to the autonomic educational and research activities of universities, can cause significant deterioration of the education level, and has nothing to do with stimulation of universities'.

Quite surprisingly however, Akito Arima, the then Minister of Education, who himself came from a national university, decided to launch the incorporation, and the scenario of 'agreement of the parties concerned' under the usual leadership of government officials has followed.

After the Ministry of Education (then) announced the incorporation, some faculties, National Conference of Science Departments Deans, Conference of Agriculture Departments Deans protested, and resistance raised from the academic side. Yet when the Japan Association of National Universities, consisting of their presidents, announced that it would participate in the evaluating panel in June 2000, the voices of protest died down rapidly. This shows not only the obvious cowardliness of the universities, but it is also an indication of how the Ministry of Education has ruled the universities in the course of many years violating Article 10 of the Fundamental Law of Education. This is to say that the 'structural threat' involving budgeting or institutional reorganizations has worked very strongly, and the executives of the universities need some determination to overtly articulate their protest.

As a result, there are people saying that what is important for their university to survive is to keep up with the incorporation. This is not only uttered by the executives, but can be also heard from the rank and file. Alas, 'surviving' does not mean natural selection in the society, it means 'getting killed by the Ministry of Education', as was demonstrated by the ministry itself. Last year, June 14, Tomonori Kudo, director of the Office of Higher Education said in front of the presidents of national universities 'if we don't see any effort from your side... there will be situations where abandoning certain units might be necessary... I shall make it bold to threaten you a bit.'

The effect of this intimidation appeared to be more than satisfying, and many universities are far from protesting against the incorporation, having a hectic time blindly 'reorganizing' and 'integrating' themselves. The presidents of national universities prostrated by a threat of a government bureaucrat must be called a marvelous spectacle.

Who should make the real reform?

The Faculty and Staff Union of Japanese Universities (Zendaikyo) is the biggest among institutions criticizing the incorporation. In spite of differences in nuances, this organization has adhered to the protest against the incorporation. On the other hand, the person in charge of UPI Center, the university division of Japan Teachers' Union, said in an interview with the author that his organization would not oppose incorporation. This is based on the expectation that 'the measures taken should maintain universities' self-governance', but I would strongly recommend examining the 'final report' issued by the Evaluating Panel to reconsider whether this hope is well-grounded or not.

Faculties should take the biggest part of responsibility for this problem, but the silence of almost all of them is against the principle of accountability. However, after the 'final report' was published, some of them started to pass critical resolutions.

Another obvious reason why the protests lack strength is the fact that universities with so many problems and flaws have a limited ability to make improvements of their own accord. It is a universal principle that an organization cannot maintain its integrity without intervention from outside.

Now, I would like to propose two issues that should become the starting point for the reform. Firstly, allowing students' participation in reforming and managing universities is essential. This was also emphasized in the UNESCO World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century announced in 1998. Secondly, although there have been Management Advisory Committees set up at each university a few years ago, their members policies controlled by the 'high-and-mighty' should be abandoned, and the local citizens along with the students should be included. This will open a way for the members of local communities to participate in the management of universities. Doing so should also be an important step towards the fulfillment of the Article 10 of the Fundamental Education Law stating that '[educational institutions] shall be directly responsible to the whole people'.

Government's Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy accelerated the incorporation one year ahead of the plan, and started to consider enforcing it from the year 2003*. Any resistance is hardly noticeable. It is caused not as much by the government's influence as by the fact that even people supporting the views expressed in this article are not aware enough of serious problems related to the observance of the Constitution and Fundamental Education Law. That is why we are going to attach a lot of importance to the information campaign led by the 'National Stop-the-Incorporation Network', directed to the intellectuals and different groups. Also, we are conducting a campaign to collect signatures under a petition to the Diet.

The claim 'incorporation means reforming the universities' has always been a lie, and until a few years ago this fact was clear for anybody close to the universities, including the Ministry of Education. What is going on now can best be described by the proverb 'a lie repeated often enough becomes truth'. People promoting this reform will have to hide this lie for the long time that is left to the Diet debate. I hope that the day when mass media controlled by press clubs fail to conceal their lies, and the nation extensively learns about the truth, this conspiracy will collapse with a loud bang.

* "2004" in the magazine was a mistake


Government's explanation of Independent Administrative Institutions

'National Stop-the-Incorporation Network' (People's Network Against the Plan to Destroy Japan's National Universities)

Site about incorporation (maintained by Toru Tsujishita from Hokkaido University)

Author's homepage (in Japanese) ....Mirror

References (sorry, all in Japanese)

K.Toyoshima, "Application of the IAI regime to universities, is it legal or illegal?" Dec.7.2000.
K.Toyoshima, "Transforming to IAI as a super 'University Control Law', Oct.31 2000.
K.Toyoshima, "Illegal Orders from the Ministry of Education and the Obedient Universities", May 22, 1995.
M.Tsukazaki, "Making proccess of the article 10 of the Fundamental Law of Education"