President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is good at forming policies and creating project plans, despite its poor record of implementation. In one of the latest project proposals, the Ministry of Education on Wednesday presented a white paper on talent cultivation, which outlines a 10-year plan on cultivating talent and improving the quality of education with an aim of turning Taiwan into a higher-education center in the Asia-Pacific region. The plans include an investment of NT$41 billion (US$1.3 billion) over the next three years to increase the number of public kindergartens to 100 in five years, enhance training in vocational schools, attract more foreign students and encourage Taiwanese students to study abroad.
Most of the paper’s plans were previously mentioned in Ma’s education policies when he took office in 2008. The government has for a while now been seeking to enhance training in vocational schools and promote cooperation between schools and industry to raise the employment rate.
Apart from these old policies, the white paper, which is the result of 10 months of discussion among academics and experts, also included some slogans often seen in the policies of the Ma administration. It promised to provide Taiwanese students with “six key powers”: “Global movement” (foreign language ability, international perspective and willingness to travel); the ability to get a job; the ability to solve problems; innovation; “cross-field power” (the ability to use information tools); and the initiative to participate in social activities and promote public interests.
The “six key powers” promise that characterizes the latest education policy is reminiscent of the “6-3-3” policy Ma laid out in his 2008 election campaign. The numbers in the title referred to Ma’s promise to attain an economic growth rate of 6 percent, bring the unemployment rate down to less than 3 percent and increase per capita income to US$30,000 by 2012.
Ma has failed to carry out the “6-3-3” economic policy, and the slogan now symbolizes broken promises and poorly executed policies under his administration.
With lots of slogans, outlines and promises, the education ministry’s white paper on talent cultivation could end up being yet another failed Ma administration policy.
The NT$41 billion investment in talent cultivation will be used mainly to implement existing education plans. There are no innovative policies in the white paper, and no new resources are assigned to higher education, despite Ma’s pledge to make Taiwan a higher education center in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to the latest report from the National Science Council, Taiwan is likely to face a talent deficit within the next 10 years due to low fertility rates, a reduction in doctoral program application rates and an increase in talent outflow.
The widening gap between supply and demand for talented individuals with higher education degrees is a major reason behind the low doctoral program application rates, and the ministry’s solution is to set up professional tracks for masters degree programs and enhance professional-oriented courses in colleges.
The solution may solve the issue in the short term, but the ministry is risking turning universities into occupational training centers while ignoring the purpose of higher education in the long run.