The Yomiuri Shimbun The first establishment a university veterinary medicine department in half a century must lead to fostering veterinarians who can contribute to regional development.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s Council for University Chartering and School Juridical Person has submitted a report recommending that the government approve the establishment of a veterinary department at the Okayama University of Science next spring, the application for which was filed by Kake Educational Institution.
It is significant that the application has passed the screening conducted by the panel of experts, which has no vested interest and defies any political pressure. Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has expressed the intention to approve the application shortly.
Shikoku is a region where there is no university veterinary department. Securing civil-service veterinarians, it can be said, is an urgent task to be tackled to deal with such epidemics as bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease.
The Imabari municipal government, together with the Ehime prefectural government, plans to provide a subsidy of up to ¥9.6 billion to help cover construction and other costs. It is important to resolve the uneven regional distribution of vets by making such systems as the quota for admissions to local people function effectively.
The opening of a new university veterinary department had not been approved since 1966 on the grounds that it would cause an oversupply of vets. The Council on National Strategic Special Zones, which has been promoting regulatory reforms, decided in January to approve the application for the establishment of a veterinary department in Imabari, and Kake was selected as its operator.
Many problems were pointed out about the plan initially submitted to the Council for University Chartering and School Juridical Person. The approval, originally scheduled for August, has been put on hold due to a shortfall of teaching staff against the planned admission of 160 students and the insufficiency of planned practical training hours.
Strict oversight needed
To meet regional needs, it is essential to establish a system that will be able to provide high-quality education in a stable manner. It can be said as a matter of course that the screening was conducted strictly from technical and academic viewpoints.
In the revised plan, Kake decreased the number of students to be admitted while increasing the teaching staff. The number of subjects to be learned in the advanced life science field and the infectious diseases to be studied have been expanded. The Council for University Chartering and School Juridical Person approved the application by attaching points to consider, including reexamination of the age composition of teaching staff.
The education ministry should check strictly even after the opening of the veterinary department to confirm whether it is operated appropriately.
As to the selection of Imabari as a national strategic zone, opposition parties grilled the government, arguing that the choice was “a foregone conclusion” because the head of the Kake institution is a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe has consistently denied the allegation. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate claims of his direct involvement in the scandal.
The opposition parties are poised to grill the government on the matter also in the ongoing special Diet session. But it is questionable whether the Diet debate will turn out to be constructive.
A problematic point is that records on coordination among government ministries and agencies as to the selection of the special zone in question as well as on contact between the government officials concerned and the Kake institution have not been preserved adequately. It has been revealed that the summary of minutes of a special zone working group were intentionally altered.
The government will discuss revising the guidelines on the handling of administrative documents to make it mandatory to keep documents necessary for verification for at least one year. It needs to enhance the people’s confidence in the administration by disclosing the policy decision process proactively.