On Nov. 27, People First Party (PFP) vice presidential candidate Lin Ruey-shiung (林瑞雄) pledged at a rally in Sinying District (新營), Greater Tainan, to establish a new university in the district, because “there is no good university there.” The PFP’s education policy is completely wrong and absolutely unacceptable.
The large number of universities in Taiwan has long been a target of criticism. Under former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) policy of “one university for each county,” the number of universities has grown in the past decade. Today, there are 163 colleges and universities nationwide, and with the birthrate declining, some schools can barely recruit enough students. Greater Tainan, for one, has 16 colleges and universities, including some prestigious schools such as National Cheng Kung University. Instead of proposing “one university for each district,” which is even worse than Chen’s policy, the PFP should focus on improving the quality of education at existing schools to win the public’s trust.
In mid-August, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) unveiled her 10-Year Policy Platform for government, including her education policy. Her policy does not differ much from that of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). However, her proposal to raise the percentage of public university students to more than 50 percent is unrealistic, and her suggestion that schools recruit local senior-high graduates first is unfeasible.
A major problem of Taiwan’s higher education system is the uneven distribution of resources between public and private universities. Increasing the number of students enrolled in public schools would not solve the problem. Public universities and students have long enjoyed more educational resources, while private schools and students have been treated like second-class citizens.
For example, among the 12 universities funded by the Ministry of Education’s “university advancement project,” only one, Chang Gung University, is a private school. Tsai’s policy will only widen the gap between public and private universities. Besides, what are her standards for school enrolment? What will happen to schools and students being left behind? The massive budget required to carry out such a policy might lead to a “crowding-out effect.”
As for schools recruiting local senior-high graduates first, what will motivate students to study harder if they could enter a top university just by moving close to one? What about low-income households that cannot afford to move?
As for the KMT’s education policy, even President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has criticized the ministry’s poor promotion of the education system, saying that no one knows what the ministry is doing.
The most serious problem with the current system is the university evaluation system, which forces teachers to focus on research rather than teaching. According to Shih Hsin University President Lai Ting-ming (賴鼎銘), eight of the school’s professors have died from pressure and overwork in the past few years. Lai said most teachers had been forced to spend more time on research and less on teaching to meet the evaluation requirements. Is this the education that we want?
Taiwan needs to improve the quality of existing universities, not build more universities. It needs a fair distribution of educational resources, not more public schools or students. It also needs a more flexible evaluation system and to achieve a balance between research and teaching. As the presidential election is more than a month away, hopefully, the three parties can adjust their education policies and come up with some “beef.”