Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Tougher standards mean better graduates

By Chang Sheng-en 張聖恩

The number of universities and graduate institutes in Taiwan is excessive and the average quality of these schools has declined. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education last year, there are as many as 139 universities with 1,904 graduate schools and the numbers are rising. Almost 1,000 graduate programs have been launched in the past few years. Since both teachers and equipment are insufficient, a crisis appears inevitable in higher education.

Theoretically, setting up more higher educational institutes to improve the quality of talent is not a bad thing. As local companies move from "manufacturing-oriented" to "service-oriented," it's necessary for this country to improve the education level of its people. Nevertheless, improving manpower quality should not be the sole criterion for establishing more universities and graduate schools.

Take for example the phenomenon of graduate schools becoming more like universities and universities becoming more like senior-high schools (研究所大學化、大學高中化). Not only have many schools failed to cultivate students who possess both ability and morality, but they have caused more social problems. Here are some suggestions:

First, the education ministry's supervision is crucial. The establishment of new schools is usually entangled with local forces, or political and business interests. As a result, the ministry must come up with a complete, independent evaluation system, and conduct its evaluations of schools fairly and objectively regardless of outside pressure.

The success of this system depends on the ministry's determination. Unless government authorities can resist outside pressure and carry out evaluations accurately, they may repeat the superficial evaluation process of the past.

Second, all schools have to make strict demands on their students. Universities in this country are famed for "letting you fool around for four years" (由你玩四年) -- Chinese slang which sounds like the English word "university." Although the curriculum of our graduate programs are relatively strict, many graduate schools recruit more students than they should in order to make more money -- seriously distorting the ratio of teachers to students. Therefore, the number of students at each institute should be regulated. Graduate schools should never turn themselves into diploma mills by arbitrarily offering "special programs for working students" (在職專班).

Perhaps we can learn from foreign graduate institutes by taking applicants' average grades in the last two years of university into account. We should also require that all graduate students maintain a 3.0 ("B" in the US system; 80 points in Taiwan's system) grade point average (GPA). Some foreign graduate institutes require students to take qualification tests in order to proceed to their second year. This mathod deserves our consideration.

Third, we must understand that education is a long-running project. Government authorities have to listen to different voices before deciding major education policies. They also have to carefully examine the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the feasibility, of the proposed education policies -- instead of using students as guinea pigs.

More importantly, they should never ignore the consistency of major education policies. Over the past decade, there have been seven education ministers with an average tenure of a little more than a year, since some of them were forced to step down for political reasons. These ministers have also tended to pass the buck when under criticism. To maintain the professionalism, objectivity and consistency of higher education, such political interference and leadership problems should never occur in the future.

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