Medical school entrance exams: Women outperform men in Japan years after testing scandal

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Japanese women have outperformed men in medical school entrance exams for the first time since universities admitted they had deliberately failed female applicants to inflate the number of male doctors.

According to new government data, 13.6% of female candidates passed exams at 81 medical schools last spring, compared with 13.51% of men.

It is the first time that women have fared better than their male counterparts since the education ministry started keeping records in 2013.

The latest results are a reversal of those over the previous eight years, when the pass rate among men exceeded that of women by up to 2.05 percentage points.

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Japan’s academic world was shaken in 2018 by revelations that several medical schools had deliberately marked down female candidates, triggering accusations of institutional sexism and demands for greater transparency. Ten of the country’s most prestigious schools admitted that they had systematically discriminated against women to ensure a sufficient number of men were admitted.

The gender-based manipulation of results came to light after Tokyo Medical University was alleged to have offered a place to the son of a senior education ministry official in return for a favour.

The schools said they had deliberately failed female candidates due to concerns that women were more likely to quit their medical careers to start families amid a nationwide shortage of doctors.

Of the schools that were found to have discriminated against female candidates, six had higher acceptance rates for women than for men in 2021. A higher percentage of women than men had passed at a small number of schools the year after the scandal, but this is the first time the trend has extended nationwide.

An education ministry official said the data proved that women were no longer at a disadvantage when they applied for places at Japan’s highly competitive medical schools. “It has become clear that the acceptance rate will not be low only for female applicants,” the official told Kyodo news agency.

The proportion of female doctors in Japan is still significantly lower than in other developed economies, however. A 2018 survey by the health ministry found that just 21.9% of doctors were women, the lowest share among countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, in which the average was 46% in 2015.

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