The tuition fees for colleges and universities in this country are not particularly high compared to schools in most of the world's advanced countries. The problem is, what is the best way for us to pay for the next generation's education and be in accordance with social justice?
On July 14, some opposition legislators demanded that the Ministry of Education reduce the interest rates on student loans to zero. Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村) said that it is necessary to make a distinction between "education subsidies" and "social welfare," and that it's unfair to ask the public to subsidize the interest on student loans.
Taxpayers are paying as much as NT$6 billion annually to cover the education fees of the children of military personnel, public servants and teachers. However, the average annual income of such households exceeds NT$700,000 today -- which is more than double the annual income of a low-income household (under NT$300,000). Such an education policy violates social justice. Unfortunately, justice always comes late and it's hard to change the social structure that is hampering the principle of justice in the short term.
In fact, Taiwan has a much higher percentage of public universities than other advanced countries. Take the US for example. In California, the world's fifth-largest economy, there are two public-university systems -- the Universities of California (UC) and the California State Universities (Cal State).
The UC system has nine campuses with almost 200,000 students, and the Cal State system has 23 campuses with over 400,000 students. The primary mission of these 32 universities is to allow students from the state's financially-disadvantaged families to attend college at relatively low cost. In terms of expensive private universities (many of which are renowned and elite), students compete for admission on the basis of their parents' fortunes and their own intelligence.
Looking at Taiwan's case, however, the situation runs coun-ter to what one would desire: students from high-income households often study at public universities (with subsidies) while students from low-income households often study in expensive private universities (without subsidies). This is where the problem lies.
I'm willing to agree with Huang that education subsidies and social welfare are two completely different things. Besides, unlike most advanced countries, Taiwan has not yet adopted a high-tax policy. The government cannot cover all the tuition for all college students. As a result, every family has an obligation to start saving for their children's higher education. Only households with an average annual income less than NT$300,000 should be eligible to receive subsidies, reasonable ones.
I'm afraid that those legislators who advocate canceling the interest on student loans may leave some families with massive debts. Eventually, our young people will bear the huge pressure of paying back the capital of their student loans as soon as they finish school. Is this really a kind of welfare, or even mercy?
If the interest on student loans is canceled, perhaps our college students will spend all their time earning money since they will not be under pressure to pay back their loans right away and will be tempted to raise their standard of living. This would obviously contradict the good intention of canceling the interest rates.