Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

The coming crisis in higher education

By Wang Yu-fong 王御風

The results of this year's university admission exams were released last Tuesday. As usual, the media discussed which students scored the highest, but the public is more interested in the high university acceptance rate of 90.93 percent and the low entrance threshold: students can enter a university with an average score of 16 points for each subject in the 100-point exams. This shows that, after years of reform, Taiwan's higher education is now entering a whole new phase.

Due to the extremely competitive Joint College Entrance Examinations in the past, acceptance rates used to be about 20 percent. This could considered a kind of "elite education," and most of those who were able to enter colleges had a solid knowledge base and were interested in and capable of acquiring greater knowledge.

For university education in the past, we only worried about whether teachers were able to bring their students to a higher academic level. We did not worry about whether teachers could inspire them, because that was the mission of our secondary school system.

However, today's high acceptance rates show that the old-fashioned concept of elite education is irrelevant in the current environment, and perhaps it is only feasible at public universities and the best private ones.

What would happen to students who scored in the 20s and 30s in the different subjects in the entrance exams if we taught them using the same methods that are used at the prestigious National Taiwan University? This is in fact happening across the country right now, and we will begin to see the effects in the near future.

I have taught at several colleges and universities over the past few years, and have seen the obvious gap between students from different schools. With the same teaching materials, students at school A may love my courses and keep asking questions; students at school B may feel bored and fall asleep, while at school C, I just hope that they stop talking and simply behave themselves. The chaotic situation that can be seen in classes of low-achievers in TV programs is also happening in many of colleges and universities.

Our schools are aware of the problem, but it stems from three sources: parents only want to see teachers with doctoral degrees from famous universities; Ministry of Education officials merely check the student-teacher ratio; and schools only want teachers with an excellent educational record, so they can obtain more research projects from the National Science Council and attract more students.

The government's shaping of higher education extends no further than finding ways to get local schools to squeeze in among the world's top 100 universities someday. From the bottom down, we are still thinking along the lines of elite education and value research over teaching. Nobody really cares about the students who lag behind or whether they understand or are interested in the courses.

The government's intent with the educational reforms a dozen years ago was to change the elite education into a universal education system so that almost everyone could go to college. Their intentions were good, but just as has happened with the reform of our primary and secondary educational system, society and schools both continue to deal with the exploding number of colleges and universities from the perspective of the old ideology of elite education.

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