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Women at the University of Tokyo

By Ichiro Suzuki

At the University of Tokyo (usually called Todai), the pinnacle of the Japan’s education system, only one our of five students is women. At privately-run institutions such as Keio and Waseda, women’s ratio is less extreme but still is only a third.  This lack of into balance between male and female students at a top institution definitely contributes later to a wage gap between the two sexes since students from elite colleges have a greater chance of landing a higher paying job. Todai, or no other universities, make no discrimination by sex, (except for a few cases of some medical universities that cause an uproar recently.) However, applications from female candidates to top notch schools are low, to begin with. With the exception of tiny fractions, candidates are admitted to Todai based on single entrance examination results. The university picks candidates with the highest mark to the point of a cut-off line to fill the capacity. No other considerations are made, not even grades or extra-curricular activities at high school. So a difference of a point or two out of maybe a thousand points could make or break one’s life. This excessively mechanical way of selecting students has been under criticism for a long time. That said, this is objective and fair, at least from one perspective, they think. (In recent years, privately held universities are running more diverse ways of admitting students based on high school grades, essays, and interviews though entrance examinations still remain the mainstream.) Japanese men are no smarter than women, and probably not are as smart as women. However, there is a rampant air in the Japanese society that keeps intelligent young girls from driving themselves to do better and trying to get to a famed institution. The Japanese society at large still tends to think women spoil a chance of marriage by studying at an elite school like Todai. Unless they find a partner at school, they might have to face a chance of ‘marrying down’ to a man who attended a ‘lesser’ school. (At least there are many more men that women at Todai by a wide margin.) Then there have been only a limited number of women who have excelled in big business, public services, practicing law, etc. Shortage of role models keeps bright young girls from aspiring for more and work harder in getting where they could possibly go. Then, there is another problem associated with the way Todai or other universities admit students. Universities take in new students on a departmental basis, not general admissions for the entire class of 2024 or something that lets the students decide on their major later. Candidates are required to apply to specific field of studies, i.e. economics, commerce, law, education, literature, history, engineering, physics, medicine, etc. In the case of private universities, each department has a different entrance exam date. So it is possible for a candidate to send multiple applications to one university, ending up with multiple admission offers. However, only one application can be sent to Todai and other public universities since all the entrance exams take place on a single day.  Young girls in general are overwhelmingly interested in the fields of humanities. When they choose career-related fields of choice, it tends to be education, foreign languages or domestic science. Fields of social sciences, i.e. economics, or STEM are much less popular among them. While women represent significantly less than half of the student body at elite universities, they still crowd the departments that are popular among women, and literature and they crowd these departments at elite universities. In the absence of great interest among women, many other departments are not receiving their applications in the first place, translating into poor representation of women at elite schools. In the same fashion, graduate schools of business in the U.S. are still under-represented by women. While MBA programs are at least making great efforts to raise the number of women, Japanese universities have done little on this. It would take a major overhaul of the system these school admit students and this seems next to impossible at present. Or these school might create new departments where women can be strongly represented, such as nursing or pharmacy. Affirmative action can be a relatively low cost way of increasing women’s representation, though this may not fit the Japanese value system. Private universities with financial resources might move to expand the size of the school, if they become strongly interested in increasing the number of women on campus. However, Todai will have none of these, for sure. Reference: At Japan’s most elite university, just one in five students is women


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