Tue, Feb 08, 2011 - Page 8 News List

How to improve higher education

By Su Fu-hsing 蘇復興

“Will my school be around in the future?” “Which school will take over our school?”

These are some of the questions people have been asking lately as university mergers have become a hot topic. Article 7 of the recently passed University Act (大學法) has been amended to give the Ministry of Education the legal authority to draw up merger plans for certain national universities based on issues such as the overall development of higher education, the allocation of educational resources and the location of universities, and then report these plans to the Cabinet and ask for their implementation.

The ministry has been working very hard on university mergers for many years, but the results have been less than expected. It is clear that the amendment to the law is an attempt to implement a national education policy.

It is easy to see that the policy of government-run public universities is increasingly out of line with the sprit of the times, characterized by global competition and the independence of universities. The well-known US publication Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article about how university mergers are starting to sweep across Europe.

The article analyzed in great detail the way European countries such as Germany, the UK, France and Belgium have been merging many of their universities with the main aim of cutting education costs. The article said that university mergers have also taken place in the Nordic -countries, which are more geographically remote and have smaller populations.

The report said that in a few short years, the number of universities in Finland fell from 20 to 15. Since 2007, 25 Danish universities and research institutes have been merged into eight universities and three research institutes. The vast majority of universities in Europe are public institutions relying on funding from central or federal governments.

However, at times when there are problems with national finances and public expenditure cannot meet needs, universities are left to fend for themselves.

In order to achieve these goals, the Finnish government issued a new regulation this year making all universities in Finland independent legal entities capable of owning their own property, conducting business and pursuing profit, but also demanding that they take responsibility for their own profits and losses.

In Taiwan, our national universities are traditionally national administrative organizations that fall under the education ministry. However, the question remains as to how much longer the ministry will be able to carry on playing the role of an educational “guardian.”

University mergers are becoming necessary because of the importance currently placed on performance and results as well as the social importance attached to rankings and assessments. Commonly used rankings, such as the Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities or the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, place more emphasis on research achievements and academic output as the basis of assessment.

Under such conditions, the development and competitiveness of a university dedicated to the study of a single discipline will fail to match that of a comprehensive university.

Also, smaller universities are mostly at a disadvantage and find it hard to compete with large universities in terms of securing research funds, plans for cooperation between schools and the private sector, the implementation of innovation and incubation schemes, the development of overseas exchanges and the number of faculty, staff, hardware and software facilities.

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