Before President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to office he promised to increase the budget for community colleges. In the two years since his election, the budget has actually been cut. If one were to be cynical, one could suggest the budget for lunches for disadvantaged children wouldn’t have been cut had those kids had the right to vote.
With the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) starting to get rattled about the five special municipality elections to be held in November, you would think KMT legislators and Ministry of Education (MOE) officials would have their ears closer to the ground to catch the rumblings of the public’s mood.
The government has cut about NT$70 million (US$2 million) from the original NT$900 million budget for community colleges nationwide. Doesn’t it know how many votes it stands to lose here? It could keep members of the public who use these colleges happy for a whole year on a small fraction of the money being spent on the Taipei International Flora Exposition.
Twelve years ago, community colleges were still in the planning stages and hadn’t quite taken off. Then, three years ago, I worked with another three colleagues on running a community college that was already offering around 80 classes per semester. Boasting almost 2,400 students, it was far bigger than many of the mini-elementary schools we have at the moment. The classes were taught at six sites, which was good for the students, and the subsidized fees, for which local government was accountable for only NT$800,000 per semester, came out to NT$1,000 per semester per student for each subject taken.
The year-end open days are a perfect opportunity to get a sense of the energy in the community. There are more than 20 classes in Japanese, English conversation, belly dancing and computers alone, and these are all fully booked. In fact, the subjects are so popular that we often have to turn people away. We have more than 100 volunteers and teaching staff. Every year we hold more than 200 events, big and small, and even the local education authorities are surprised at the number of people these activities attract.
In mid-May, our community university, at my instigation, hired five minivans for a trip to Lalashan (拉拉山) in Taoyuan County where we picked and bought local peaches to contribute to the local economy. We killed two birds with one stone: We had a great school trip while helping out the local Aboriginals.
I find these budget cuts frustrating because elected officials and representatives from the supervising agencies are always so complimentary about our work during their speeches on the open days we hold at the end of every term. They say it’s just like being at a carnival, and that they are always surprised by the amount of latent energy in the community.
As I always say to students, it’s never too late to start studying, and you should never sell yourselves short.
Now that the government is thinking of cutting the budget to colleges like ours, I would like to remind it of the considerable amount of votes involved. It should also not underestimate the value of people’s contributions. You can bet that running costs would soar if the government were to step in.
What is the sense in cutting the already relatively small subsidies toward community education at a time when GDP is actually rising?