Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Britain's education system is way ahead

By Johnny Shieh 謝國榮

Taiwan's universities and colleges have long been divided into two systems: traditional universities where education is focused on theoretical research, and technological and vocational institutions where education is focused on the research and development of applied technology. From the perspective of placing equal emphasis on theoretical and practical studies, this division is outdated and out of step with the times.

For example, business administration departments in Taiwan's traditional universities generally emphasize theoretical training and cooperation between schools and industry is weak; as a result, during their four-year education, students generally have no contact with industry and get no practical hands-on experience.

In technological and vocational institutions, on the other hand, students are given better opportunities to visit businesses and serve as interns in courses offered jointly by the schools and businesses. Companies may even train students so they can obtain relevant qualifications that facilitate their future career development.

According to a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year, the UK was the world's largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) for the past five years, and FDI inflows in 2005 totaled US$164.5 billion, far exceeding the US and China, which were the second and third largest recipients. I believe that the UK's overall national competitiveness is closely related to its abundant supply of outstanding manpower, and the key is its excellent educational ideals and reforms.

In 1992, the British government abolished the dual-track educational system with traditional universities and technological and vocational universities, renaming all technological and vocational universities and giving them the same status as normal universities.

The British government initiated new educational reforms emphasizing the equal importance between theoretical and practical technology while also requiring and encouraging cooperation between academic and industrial circles, thus building a strategic partnership.

In 2003, the British government released a white paper on the future of its higher education system, with the chief goal of improving the knowledge of high technology among students so that they could not only satisfy the needs of domestic industry, but also meet the competition and challenges resulting from globalization. The British government increased its education expenditure from ?35 billion (US$69 billion) in 1997 to ?51 billion (US$100.4 billion) in 2005. It is predicted that by 2015, the amount will increase tenfold.

I visited a school in the UK where I met a 15-year-old student who began taking computer literacy courses at the age of five as a first-year primary school student. At age 11, he studied French as a first compulsory foreign language, and at age 12 he took up German as his second compulsory foreign language. At age 13, Italian or Spanish are also offered as electives.

Students in the UK begin to learn basic product design at the age of 11, how to make a product at 12, computer-aided design at 13 and basic technical and vocational courses at age 14 through secondary school and university. As a result, the UK trains the talent needed in its industries for day-to-day operations, management, innovation and research and development. The British government's vision for educational reform is surely way ahead that of the rest of the world.

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