Following last year’s twin price increases for gasoline and electricity, university fees are also set to increase. Education used to be the best path for moving between social classes, but it is now becoming a resource that is monopolized by the privileged, and a commodity for private schools for whom profit is the most important concern.
State-run universities, which take 90 percent of the resources available for higher education, and that were originally supposed to play a public role, are instead being given priority to raise their fees by 6 percent, along market-system lines.
Meanwhile, private colleges, which are allocated a mere 10 percent of the state’s resources — and are supposed to make up for inadequacies in education through a market system — are fettered by layer upon layer of policy restrictions, and will have to wait to adjust their fees upward by just 5 percent.
This arrangement fails to consider a rational distribution of educational resources between state-run and private schools, and instead merely takes fees as a reflection of costs as determined by GDP growth. It completely overlooks realities such as shrinking salaries and falling real household incomes.
The authorities are unwilling to confront the phenomenon of academic inflation or to think about how to solve the problems of youth unemployment and the new poor.
If the fee hike goes ahead according to this current plan, it will increase the burden that educational spending imposes on students who come from low-income families, and put students who worked so hard to pass the entrance exams for state-run universities deep into debt.
The state’s public policies do not promote social justice. On the contrary, they aggravate unfairness and injustice in society.
Today, students fall asleep in class because they have been working so hard to earn or borrow money to pay their school fees. People with doctorates sell fried chicken and college professors are forced to stand outside their campuses handing out leaflets to recruit students.
The intellectual elite that has been pushed into such dire straits may turn into a ticking social time bomb that could blow apart the lives of our educated youth.
Tai Po-fen is chairperson of the Taiwan Higher Education Union and a professor in the Department of Sociology at Fu Jen Catholic University.
Translated by Julian Clegg