Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Reform needed in higher education

By Chang Ruay-shiung 黃瑞雄

The fact that students who only had an average of three points in every subject in this year's university entrance exam were eligible for admission to university has become a hot topic in education. But the Ministry of Education's measures to remedy this problem, such as closing down universities and setting minimum enrollment requirements, only address the symptoms and not the fundamental problems in higher education in Taiwan.

First, there are too many universities and too few students, so even without the ministry's measures, some universities will have to close. When a bank goes bankrupt, the money in its savings accounts still has some minimal guarantee from the central bank. But how would the ministry handle a university's possessions and the people connected to the school when a university closes down? What about the teachers, the student body and the alumni? The costs and problems this constitutes should not be ignored.

To avoid wasting university resources, the only solution seems to be to expand the potential pool of students. There are two possibilities for this -- one is recruiting students from China, the other is recruiting students from other countries. The former involves too many political problems to resolve in the short term.

As to the latter, there are three problems. The first is language. Unless university courses are taught in English, it will be hard to attract foreign students. Therefore, universities need to gradually increase the number of courses taught in English.

The second problem is that the foreign students who now come to Taiwan are from countries that aren't doing very well economically. They depend on scholarships given out by the Taiwanese government and are provide no substantial economic benefit to the universities.

Third, the government has to stabilize the situation across the Taiwan Strait, as foreign students will not study in what is considered a dangerous place.

Second, the present enrollment system at universities is outdated. There are too many universities, for too few students, necessitating a change in the recruitment system from choosing the most talented students, to assigning students to a variety of universities. The old method of recruiting students worked in a time when there were more students than places in universities, but that no longer works. Now that there are more places in universities than there are students a new method is needed, to keep the diversity of the students' backgrounds within a campus and the competition between universities from disappearing.

The current system works for a minority of students -- those studying at national schools, those from prosperous families and those living in major cities. For the majority it does not offer a fair deal.

For private universities to survive and develop, they have to think of a way to change their recruitment system. Students from rural areas and less advantaged families should ask themselves what benefits the current recruitment system gives them.

Third, there is no connection between quality of the education and a university's tuition fees. If the tuition fee for National Taiwan University is only half of that of a private university, then who would want to go to a private university, unless they are not accepted by any other school? Any effort private universities make to woo students would be futile.

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