Taiwan universities need to improve competitiveness
Taiwan has seen some setbacks in world rankings in terms of higher education with its top university slipping to 167th in the latest assessment by the Times Higher Education magazine.
While such world rankings are only references and open to different interpretations, the setbacks have reflected the predicament facing Taiwan’s higher education sector.
An editor of the magazine, according to the Central News Agency, explained that the slipping of National Taiwan University (NTU) to its lowest position in 12 years shows that globally, competition is heating up and universities from other parts of the world are receiving more support from their respective governments.
The editor said Taiwan’s universities need more government support and funding in order to stay competitive.
The comments drew a response from Education Minister Wu Se-hwa, who said the nation’s education budget cannot be raised in the short term, and therefore local universities must rely on themselves to find new sources of funding.
Government spending on education accounts for less than 25 percent of the national budget (which is less than NT$2 trillion). While about one third of total education spending is handed to higher education mostly in the form of subsidies, it is still a tight budget, judging from the fact that there are more than 100 colleges and universities in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s colleges and universities used to rely heavily on government subsidies, which managed to keep tuition fees low.
While fees remain relatively low, subsidies for higher education institutions have actually been shrinking. Policy changes now require universities and colleges to shoulder more of the responsibility for finding their own sources of funding.
But where is the extra income coming from? Raising tuition fees seldom seems a viable option, as the government policy has been more protective of the rights of the students. Any increases in fees must be approved by the Education Ministry.
Despite the financial difficulties for many universities, not too many of them have been able to increase fees. And for those that have managed to do so, the increases have been minimal.
A major source of income has been collaboration projects with industries. But even top-notch universities, such as NTU, have lamented that their funding has been constrained by the fact that cooperation with industry has not been as active as it is in other countries. If this is the message from the nation’s top university, imagine what it must be like for the others.
And for universities to be able to attract industries into commissioning research projects, they will have to have promising technologies and researchers.
We are not saying that Taiwan lacks top-notch scholars or researchers, but the salary caps for faculty have been playing an inhibitive role as far as increasing universities’ competitiveness is concerned.
The salary levels at Taiwan’s universities hardly provide any advantages in keeping scholars and researchers or competing for famous ones with other institutions in other parts of the world.
This is also true in Taiwan’s medical sector, which is losing its doctors and nurses to other countries that offer better job opportunities.
The problems for Taiwan’s colleges and universities are worsening. Many of them are already having difficulty enrolling enough students, which means less tuition charges and less government subsidies for them.
Taiwan’s low birth rates mean there simply will not be enough students to support the higher education “market.”
International students could be an answer, but what advantages do Taiwan’s universities have to attract students from other parts of the world? A 167th ranking does not sound too attractive, and NTU is the only Taiwan university in the Times’ top-200 rankings.
We can see that the existing resources for Taiwan’s higher education sector are insufficient to support all of the colleges and universities. They may have to undergo some form of consolidation sooner or later in order to improve their competitiveness.