Japan frenzy over university exam cheating peaks after arrest

TOKYO Fri Mar 4, 2011 9:50am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A week-long Japanese media frenzy over cheating on university entrance exams peaked on Friday after the arrest of a student who used his mobile phone to get answers off the Internet while sitting the tests.

Despite a shaky government and various economic woes, the cheating scandal has dominated Japanese news since a tipoff alerted one university last week, leading to the discovery of the questions -- and answers -- posted on the internet.

On Thursday night, a 19-year-old student from northern Japan was taken into custody after police combing through mobile phone records were led first to his mother, the subscriber to the mobile phone service, and then to him.

Kyodo news agency on Friday even sent a news flash quoting the student, who remains unnamed because he is a minor, as saying he cheated by "holding the phone between my thighs and texting with my left hand."

Media experts said a number of factors were to blame.

"I think the coverage has been a bit overdone myself, but this just goes to show that university entrance exams are still taken very seriously here in Japan," said Miiko Kodama, a professor at Musashi University who specializes in media studies.

"This is especially true of older generations who had a much harder time to get into university than people today, back in the days when it was known as the 'exam war.'"

The student, who was trying for university entrance for a second year after failing the year before, took exams for four of Japan's top universities between Feb 8 and 26.

Newspapers ran diagrams showing how the questions could have run from a mobile phone to the server and then to the site where they appeared, while TV news programs went onto the streets in Tokyo to time how fast teenagers can text.

There was even heated speculation that the student had acted with accomplices.

The fact that the cheating emerged on exams for Kyoto University, one of Japan's most renowned universities, is responsible for much of the frenzy, Kodama said.

"The fact that it's such a new-fangled way of cheating is also probably part of it. I don't think anybody would care if it was an old fashioned method," she said.

"In a way, I think there might be a bit of disappointment that it was just perpetrated by one boy from northern Japan, after being built up into something that might be much bigger."

Cheating scandals are not unknown in Japan, but arrests for them are rare. Police sources have been quoted as saying the student was held for obstructing university business by fraudulent means.

But Kodama had a much simpler answer.

"If Kyoto University had just dealt with the situation on its own, the student would have been disqualified and that would have been it. But it's now been built up into such a big deal that the police really had no choice," she said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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