Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Education `deficit' a threat to the nation

By Wen Chao-tung 溫肇東

The recent 2005 European Higher Education Fair on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6 attracted many students and parents. More than 50 education institutions from major European countries -- including Germany, France and Italy -- took part to recruit local students.

The British Council launched the first semi-annual Education UK Exhibition about 10 years ago. The number of local students studying in British institutions has increased from around 1,000 or 2,000 to more than 10,000, creating as much as NT$12 billion (US$356.8 million) in foreign reserves for Britain. In Scotland, in addition to the Ministry for Education and Young People, there is also the Ministry for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning -- because education is considered a profitable industry.

Some say that culture is good business. Similarly, education is also good business. But in Taiwan, some educators may disagree with this idea. Many believe that education is not only a public right but also public property. Perhaps it is true for the nine years of compulsory education. However, many private institutions have long operated schools at all levels. They can certainly build a profitable industry if they can provide quality services.

Although there are more than 160 colleges and universities on this tiny island, many students are still willing to spend a lot of money to pursue degrees overseas. This shows that in most consumers' eyes, it is valuable to study abroad, and experience different cultures and lifestyles. Such investment or value can boost their knowledge, language ability and international experience. But if we simply view the issue from the ratio of imported to exported students, we can offer foreign students much less.

Take the recent worldwide fever for learning Mandarin for example. How many foreigners have come to Taiwan to learn Chinese? And how hard have we tried to win them over? How many of them are willing to study professional subjects in Taiwan?

Language is surely the biggest problem in relation to the last question. But other non-English speaking countries, such as Germany and France, have all developed courses and programs taught in English in recent years.

In his book, Seeing What's Next, Clayton Christensen discusses innovation in global education, saying that rapidly changing population structure, globalization and information and communication technologies have affected education significantly.

If today's mainstream educational institutions do not innovate and upgrade, they may lose their traditional target students in five or 10 years.

In a system that is constantly extending its reach, the possibility of being replaced by other innovative competitors is very high, and it seems impossible for Taiwan to address the problem with a closed-door policy.

Taiwan's education agencies have made every effort to push for innovative and creative education in schools, but have remained unable to reform the educational system's structure, which remains conservative. Unsuccessful education reform means that attempts to change have gone nowhere.

For example, education authorities are still reluctant to amend the University Law (大學法) to lift restrictions on the recognition of degrees.

If our education industry continues to suffer in this way, Taiwan will remain a weak country in the knowledge-based economy.

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