The widening gap between technical and vocational education and the real world has recently raised concern in the business sector about the quality of education and job prospects for graduates. Companies have found that job applicants lack the exact skills needed for the available positions and, in their view, the school curriculum is out of step with their needs.
At a meeting on Tuesday in Taichung between representatives of the local machine tool industry and a number of principals of technical colleges and vocational schools, companies expressed concern that schools nowadays have not worked hard enough to link their classrooms to the reality of the working world.
Based on local media reports, business representatives said at the meeting that current textbooks and school equipment, as well as the technology certifications and training programs these schools have on offer, are outdated and not suitable to the industry’s needs.
Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧), who also attended the meeting, reportedly said he was “shocked” at this discrepancy between school training and the industry’s requirements, and that a gap so huge was “beyond his imagination.”
However, Chiang should not be surprised at all. Before assuming his ministerial post in February, the 54-year-old Stanford University PhD graduate was president of the National Central University.
He has a long track record of contributing to that university and to this country’s elite education systems. He should have known better about the privileges elite universities enjoy and the disadvantages that other sectors of the education system must suffer.
In 2007, in his capacity as presidential candidate, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that, if elected, he would budget NT$10 billion (US$333.3 million) a year to improve the nation’s technical and vocational education. And in 2009, the Ministry of Education proposed a NT$20 billion three-year reform program, aiming to upgrade the technical and vocational education system with the hope that it can meet the demands of both industry and the market.
However, in the end, citing a shortage of funds, the government only managed to provide NT$300 million a year to advance technical and vocational education. This money is shared by all technical colleges and vocational schools in Taiwan to offer professional training for teachers, sponsor student internship programs and recruit industry instructors for course design. This contrasts sharply with the yearly budget of NT$3 billion for the National Taiwan University, which itself is part of a NT$50 billion five-year program to create Taiwan’s top universities.
Unfortunately, the just-approved central government budget for next year, which has a total spending capacity of NT$1.94 trillion, shows no sign of increased funding for vocational education. While the ministry has vowed to re-propose the NT$20 billion three-year vocational education program next year and is seeking collaboration with local industries to improve school equipment, curricula and faculty, so far the government’s education policy has only shown favoritism to a few top schools.
Considering that an increasing number of people are clamoring for education reform and more students are willing to spend money on courses which will secure them jobs upon graduation, the government’s unbalanced resource allocation is a real disappointment.