Tai­wan univer­si­ties need to im­prove com­pet­i­tive­ness

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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