National Science Council (NSC) Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) and Minister Without Portfolio Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) recently issued warnings about Taiwan’s “talent gap.” However, according to Ministry of Education statistics on the number of Taiwanese graduates holding a master’s or doctoral degree, Taiwanese universities produced 630,000 master’s graduates and 40,000 doctoral graduates over the past three decades.
In other words, Taiwan’s higher education sector is booming, as schools rush to enroll more students. So why are government officials warning that there is a shortage of talented people?
The problem lies in the fact that the education ministry’s university evaluation mechanism, the NSC’s research project review and the promotion and dismissal of teachers at public and private universities all use the Science Citation Index (SCI) and the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) — two international publication indices — as their evaluation criteria. This forces university teachers to focus solely on increasing the number of published works. The fastest way to achieve this goal is to recruit a large number of master’s and doctoral students.
Since Ministry of Education funding is also based on the overall number of students, university officials encourage graduate programs to enroll more students. As a result, the number of students admitted to local graduate institutes has soared in recent years, while the number of students studying abroad has decreased.
After several years’ expansion of this practice, a number of problems have been found with the singular focus of the SCI and SSCI. The current situation is unfair to teachers in the fields of literature, law and business and to teachers who seldom or never publish in English. Academics have become reluctant to study Taiwan-related issues and to publish specialist books, as well as engage in cooperation with industry.
Furthermore, graduate students are becoming the source of increased competition. Teachers are becoming unwilling to teach undergraduate courses and are instead fighting for graduate students who can publish. As such, outstanding teachers for undergraduate courses may be dismissed because they fail to meet the school’s publication requirement.
Having produced a large number of highly educated graduates who excel at publishing papers in SCI/SSCI journals, we have discovered that they do not contribute greatly to improving people’s living standards or national development.
In order to resolve this “talent crisis,” the education ministry should reconsider its policy on higher education. For the sake of Taiwan’s national development, the ministry should abolish the current system that focuses purely on the SCI and SSCI and review the establishment of local master’s and doctoral programs and the number of students accepted into these programs. Finally, it should select certain key fields and offer scholarships to students in these fields to encourage them to study abroad.
Kao Yi-hsuan is an associate professor in the Department of biomedical imaging and radiological sciences at National Yang-Ming University.
Translated by Eddy Chang