Ministry opposes privatisation

JAPAN's higher education ministry has resolved to put every possible obstacle in the path of plans to privatise the top national universities.

The ministry, Monbusho, is pushing plans to make universities more open, especially to industry, and is making them set up Technology Liaison Organisations to sell their intellectual property. But the idea of privatising universities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan's answers to Oxbridge and the big London colleges, is not likely to figure heavily in the negotiations.

Masashi Kajiyama, of Monbusho's science and international affairs bureau, said: "There have been some remarks about this but the current view is that they are part of the state education system and will remain there." There are 100 national universities and it would never be practical for more than a few to split from Monbusho.

Monbusho is to absorb the Science and Technology Agency, until now a separate part of the government machine, which will give it an even bigger say in university and government research. This will involve complex negotiations because the organisations have rival research empires, including separate space programmes.

Tony Cox, science and technology counsellor at the British Embassy in Tokyo, said: "The idea that the universities could be turned into some sort of agency at one remove from government was produced but nobody really knew what they were saying. The universities like things the way they are. Academics can do more or less what they like, although the universities are badly underfunded."

Proposals for greater autonomy for Tokyo and Kyoto were put forward by a government commission set up to push administrative reforms but the universities made their opposition clear.

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