Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Economic woes lead to school dropouts

By Tseng Tsung-kai 曾琮愷

Ministry of Education data provided to legislators show that more than 20,000 college and university students, including students in school-to-work programs, suspended their studies in the last fall semester. This is more than in either of the 2006 or 2007 academic years.

The main reason for this increase was that the students were forced to enter the workplace because their parents couldn’t afford their tuition fees because of recent employee and salary reductions.

A lot of people do not know that if the government were to allocate an extra NT$450 million (US$13.5 million) to education annually, it could pay the interest on student loans for 750,000 students. If the government were to spend an extra NT$2 billion, it could reduce tuition fees for private schools and more than 10,000 students would not have had to discontinue their education last semester.

This is not only a personal loss, but also damages the nation’s competitiveness.

Nor do those who choose to stay in school have an easy time of it. A recent survey conducted by 1111 Job Bank showed that the average college student works 18.3 hours a week, which is very close to their average of 18.5 hours of classes.

At a meeting of the Alliance of Angry Youths, which is composed of college students and members of the Taiwan Youth Public Affairs and other organizations, it was said that over 70 percent of college students have part-time jobs, citing a MiniJob survey announced in September.

What’s more, Taiwanese higher education has moved toward corporatization. There are nearly 1 million college and graduate students in Taiwan, 60 percent of whom go to private schools. In order to pay tuition — which is much higher than at public schools — and increased living expenses, they have to work part time, which in turn has an impact on the quality of their education.

Despite the fact that college students and their parents are under great pressure, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration still offered a subsidy of NT$80 billion each year to cover the 18 percent preferential interest rate on public servants’ retirement funds.

In addition, the government spent about NT$8 billion on its shortsighted scheme to issue consumer vouchers to all Taiwanese citizens regardless of whether they are rich or poor. It is uncertain if they can be used to pay for tuition fees.

The government also spent NT$57.3 billion in an attempt to expand domestic consumption, although who knows where the money went? It could well have been aimed at consolidating grassroots support used to build the museum to Ma’s honor.

Who cares about the plight of students who have had to suspend their studies? Ma certainly hasn’t initiated any measures to help out students financially. Why can’t the government spare some money to help relieve the financial difficulties of students? What future do they have?

As for the 18 percent interest rate, the government could have used that money to freeze university tuition fees for 10 years or offer subsidies to all students, so they could enjoy the same privileges as the children of military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers.

The government could also have offered full scholarships for the more than half of all college students that are not the children of military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers. These are all measures that could be carried out immediately, with immediate effects.

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