• Yomiuri Editorial

Should oversight of private universities be the task of outside appointees?

Scandals involving private universities have continued to emerge in recent years. The management system of private universities needs to be strengthened in order to restore its soundness, but it cannot be expected to be fully effective if any changes ignore the wishes of the universities.

An expert panel of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has compiled a set of reform proposals to strengthen the governance of educational corporations. The key point is to expand the authority of the board of councillors, which is considered an advisory body to the president of the board of directors under the Private Schools Law.

Currently, the board of directors is the final decision-making body of an educational corporation, the board of councillors is consulted on important matters and auditors conduct checks.

However, it has been argued that the board of councillors and auditors are not fulfilling their oversight roles because board of councillors members can serve concurrently as members of the board of directors and auditors are appointed by the president of the board of directors.

At Nihon University, where the president of the board of directors was arrested, the board of councillors had become a mere formality and failed to prevent board directors and others from using the university for their benefit. Similar cases of irregularities in entrance examinations at medical schools have occurred at Tokyo Medical University and many other universities. There is no doubt that the reform of private universities is urgently needed.

The expert panel’s reform proposals position the board of councillors as the highest supervisory and resolution organ, giving it the authority to vote on budgets and business plans, as well as to appoint and dismiss directors and auditors. The proposals will not allow members of the board of directors or faculty members to become councillors, but will require councillors to be appointed from outside the university.

It is important to strengthen the functions to check the board of directors. But isn’t it too extreme to entrust decisions on budget and personnel affairs, which are fundamental to the management of the university, to part-time individuals outside the university as councillors who have no contact with students?

It is also questionable as to how many outside personnel are very familiar with university management. It is understandable that private universities are vehemently opposed to the proposed reforms, saying: There is a concern that the proposed reforms will allow the board of councillors to go out of control.

In recent years, public interest corporations have been reformed on the basis of “separation of business execution and supervision.” Educational corporations, however, have not been discussed in the same way as public interest corporations and other general corporations, as value has been placed on their autonomy and independence.

If the reforms are realized as proposed, it could lead to a conflict between the board of councillors and the board of directors. Before the board of councillors is upgraded to the highest resolution body, works should first be done to strengthen the oversight functions of the board of councillors and auditors.

The education ministry aims to submit a revision bill of the Private Schools Law to the ordinary Diet session next year. It is important to sort out the roles of the board of directors, board of councillors and auditors after hearing the opinions of private universities as well.

Private universities receive government subsidies and tax incentives, so transparency in their management is essential. In order to regain the trust of society, private universities must show that they themselves are willing to reform.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 19, 2021.