There is a way out of this situation. To begin with, the government could continue not allowing state-run universities to increase their fees, but allow select, high-achieving private colleges to set their own fees. That should not have too great an impact. If these colleges raise their fees, but fail to deliver a commensurate improvement in teaching, students will naturally choose not to study there.
Only by allowing this kind of benign competition can Taiwan hope to ever have top universities like Harvard and Stanford.
Another problem is the policy of not differentiating between teachers and civil servants. At present, 70 percent of doctorate holders are stuck on campus, which is a great waste of human resources.
The Ministry of Education is always sending out letters saying that colleges and teachers are or are not allowed to do this, that or the other thing. It manages teachers as if they were civil servants, but there is really no need for this. Civil servants have powers that leave them open to being bribed, should they be so inclined, but teachers have no administrative powers, so it should not be necessary to impose so many controls on them.
It would be better to let teachers do their research more freely, so that industrial upgrading can fully benefit from collaboration between business and academia.
The ministry might respond that it gets technical and vocational schools to collaborate with industry. However, colleges set targets for teachers to follow, forcing teachers to spend all their time trying to meet these instead of focusing on their teaching. It is even quite commonplace for teachers to pay out of their own pockets to set up bogus industry-academic collaboration projects, just so that they can keep their jobs.
How did a set of well-intentioned measures end up like this?
Standards for collaboration between industry and academia should be categorized. It is easy for engineering departments to find partners for projects, but it is not so easy for business management, humanities and other departments to do so.
Whoever set up the system did so in a simplistic way that only takes into account the quantity of projects and the sums of money involved. The right way to go about it would be to set different indices for assessing achievements in different fields.
The more controls and assessments the ministry imposes, the more pressure there is on universities to all develop in the same way instead of having their own characteristics. This uniform approach gets in the way of fostering outstanding talent in various fields.
These are just some of the reasons why Taiwan’s industry has failed to upgrade.
Chang Ching-ter is director of Chang Gung University’s Graduate Institute of Business and Management.
Translated by Julian Clegg