Voice recordings acquired by NHK have revealed that a former education minister called for the introduction of private-sector English exams for admission to a top state university.
The University of Tokyo decided to introduce the exams in April of last year, just two weeks after a ruling Liberal Democratic Party meeting in which the recordings were made. Until then, the university had been taking a cautious stance on private-sector exams.
The University of Tokyo says it has received no instructions or questions from the ministry or politicians.
The LDP lawmakers, as well as officials from the education ministry and universities, discussed private-sector English exams in the meeting.
According to the recordings, former education minister Hakubun Shimomura said the University of Tokyo is sending the wrong message to the Japanese people and other universities. He said the education ministry should provide the University of Tokyo with better instruction.
At the time, many universities had not yet decided whether to introduce the exams.
Just one month prior to the meeting, officials of the University of Tokyo said private-sector exams were not ready to be introduced.
Shimomura said in an NHK interview that he called on the ministry to ask the University of Tokyo to introduce the exams, as many other state universities had decided to do so. He said he sees nothing wrong with that.
Universities are authorized to make decisions regarding their entrance exams based on freedom of education guaranteed by the Constitution.
Professor Tetsuhiko Nakajima of Nagoya University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development said the education law prohibits the government from interfering in the affairs of universities.
Nakajima said a former education minister, who could exert influence at a ruling party meeting, effectively gave instructions to the ministry officials. He said this could be taken as interfering with universities' affairs.
English exams held by private-sector firms were to be introduced in entrance exams for universities starting next year. But earlier this month, the education ministry decided to postpone the launch due to concerns that the exams may not be held fairly for all applicants in terms of their financial situation or where they live.