Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Tokyo — The Japanese university at the centre of a sexism scandal apologised for "systematic" manipulation of test scores aimed at keeping female students out, with top officials saying that discrimination against women should never be allowed.

After media reports surfaced of the discrimination last week, Tokyo Medical University today released a report that concluded a written test for prospective students had "serious discriminatory factors against women", with female students’ test scores cut since at least 2006.

Even if women applicants scored full points in the written exam, they could only ever attain 80 marks out of 100, the report revealed. The university, which has been hailed as one of Japan’s top private schools, then added points to male applicants who were taking the exam within three years of graduating high school. No points were given to female applicants.

Among the reasons cited for excluding women was the suggestion that female doctors can’t work long hours after getting married or having children. Men taking the test several years after graduating high school were similarly discriminated against. Some students seeking to become doctors can spend years in prep schools studying for the exams.

‘Greatest regret’

The officials who briefed the media on Tuesday denied prior knowledge or involvement in the discrimination, which came to light during an investigation into the padding of test scores of a former education ministry bureaucrat’s son.

"I was shocked when I heard about it," Tetsuo Yukioka, MD of the university, told reporters in Tokyo today. Yukioka, who has been involved in the university’s diversity promotion programme, said he felt the "greatest regret" over the affair.

"Systemically or structurally, the roots of this problem may be quite deep," said Kenji Nakai, a lawyer assigned by the university to lead the investigation.

The episode has caused outrage in a country where the government has been looking to promote more women in the workforce to make up for a declining population. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made "womenomics" one of his core economic policies, encouraging women in the labour force to "shine". However, women accounted for only 21% of doctors in 2016, according to the Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office.

"The medical community is traditionally macho," Nobuko Kobayashi, a partner at management consultant AT Kearney, said last week when asked about the reports. "There is a deep-rooted culture that men play the main characters and women remain in support roles. Employers should not penalise women for going off the mainstream, and should welcome them when they come back to work again."