For the first time in years Taiwanese students are demonstrating and making political arguments about issues that are not immediately concerned with their own welfare. Following weeks of dissent, on New Year’s Day about 1,000 students staged a sit-in protest against media monopolization on Ketagalan Boulevard, in front of the Presidential Office. This was only the tip of a vast social networking iceberg of student culture.
It is not clear what sparked Ma’s new emphasis in such a major speech. Certainly there is nothing obviously wrong with the Taiwanese education system as a factor in economic development.
The brain drain of the last years — which has seen perhaps 80 percent of Taiwanese graduates in the US not returning — surely measures oversupply rather than the reverse. Overall Taiwanese growth waits more on world recovery than on technological innovation in industry.
We can only hope that this new student activism has not triggered Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to try to dampen liberalism and maximize instrumentalism in our educational system.
The earlier reaction of the Ministry of Education to the student protestors — that university administrators should investigate such students — was entirely inappropriate. It must be hoped that it will not cause a new wave of repression by the KMT.
Ian Inkster is a professor of global history at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages.