Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The growing plight facing the nation's universities

By Wang Yu-fong 王御風

When the results of the university entrance exams were announced, Taiwanese were shocked to learn that even students who had scored as few as 18 points out of 400 on the exam could enter universities.

This is a sure sign that the university system has changed from one designed to educate "elite students" to one that feels compelled to accept virtually any student.

This is more than Taiwanese, most of whom still believe that a university education is not for everyone, can accept.

Many have called for the Ministry of Education to handle the problem by closing down second-rate universities.

But the sad fact is that the "18 points" case is only the tip of the iceberg -- I'm afraid the real problems will emerge in time.

The decline in the value of a university education became unavoidable after the original loosening of the regulations on Taiwan's higher education system.

Chinese culture holds that education is the only way to success. If the child of parents who didn't receive higher education has the opportunity to study at a university, the parents of course will do all they can to make sure their child is able to attend.

This is the basis of the boom in the establishment of new universities that the nation has experienced.

On the surface, the reduced entrance requirements assure the new universities of attracting a certain number of students and the educational world appears to be thriving.

Under the workings of the market mechanism, this higher education bubble should disappear of its own accord.

However, when parents find out that their children who have graduated from second-rate universities are finding it impossible to secure employment, they are likely to stop sending their children to these universities, which would then be forced to close.

However, by allowing the number of universities to increase without establishing minimum entrance requirements, the ministry has exacerbated the problem.

Furthermore, even if second-rate universities were eliminated by the free market mechanism, another problem would be likely to crop up.

More and more doctoral degrees are handed out every year and with the shrinking of the job market, it is unavoidable that this will lead to hoards of unemployed people with PhDs.

As the education system changes, this may be a necessary transitional phase, but the government must also take measures to make the transition less painful.

If does not, the PhD graduates will require social welfare.

In fact, this situation is already slowly beginning to emerge, as many doctoral graduates from university education departments are experiencing great difficulty in their search for jobs.

If they do manage to find a university job, if it is at a second-rate university, they still face difficulty because the number of students is declining.

In addition to their teaching responsibilities, they may be asked help with attracting new students.

University teachers have to work extremely hard on their research to secure ministry subsidies and attract students, but they will have to work even harder to teach students who enter universities who scored only 18 points on their entrance exams.

The sad fate of these teachers is a problem that the Taiwanese higher education system must deal with.

Wang Yu-fong is a director of the North Pingtung Community College and assistant professor at the Tainan University of Technology.

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