Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Time to end the education arms race

On Thursday, Department of Technological and Vocational Education Deputy Director Hsieh Shu-chen (謝淑真) said that the department would limit recruitment efforts for traditional four and five-year university programs in favor of technological and vocational high schools.

The government is moving in the right direction, but should also step up efforts to promote interest in technical vocations among young people.

Taiwan has a better-developed technical and vocational education system than most countries, with programs spanning from the junior-high school level to doctoral programs and run by municipalities, as well as tertiary institutions run by the department.

Yet, despite the comprehensive nature of the vocational and technical education system, employers have cited difficulties in recruiting people with mid-level technical and trades skills.

Most graduating high-school students opt for traditional four or five-year arts and sciences programs, choosing the most prestigious schools that their test results can get them into.

The idea that everyone should go into a full-length university program is not unique to Taiwan, but it has reached new proportions here, as people feel compelled to enter one degree program after another just to stay competitive.

The result is an “education arms race” in which young people are constantly trying to outdo each other with advanced degrees they will never use. Master’s degree holders are the norm already and doctorates are rapidly becoming the new standard.

As Jessica Magaziner said on June 6 last year in an online report for World Education News & Reviews, higher education has transformed from an elite system 30 years ago into a universal one.

Roughly 5 million Taiwanese are now tertiary degree holders, 1.3 million of whom hold postgraduate degrees.

Magaziner said the trend accelerated in the mid-1990s, after the government sanctioned private institutions, and then again under then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who promised “a university in every county.”

However, Taiwan’s economy is largely driven by tertiary services that do not require four or five-year university degrees, let alone post-graduate degrees.

Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) numbers for June show that of the 11.34 million workers in the country, 3.5 million were engaged in craft and machine operation-related work. Another 2.2 million were service and sales workers. Only 2 million were associates or associate professionals — occupations for which advanced degrees are generally necessary.

Although enrollment for advanced degrees has declined in recent years — a trend that some have attributed to the falling birth rate — this has not been accompanied by increased enrollment in short-term programs.

Like elsewhere in the world, Taiwanese see a four-year program as the minimum qualification to enter the workforce, and failure to obtain this minimum is seen as proof of a lack of academic ability and causes social stigma.

In a piece written for PBS Newshour on April 15, 2015, US teacher Jillian Gordon said she often discouraged her students from going into four-year degree programs.

“When my students can receive an associate degree … and reliably earn a wage of up to US$59,000, I find the idea of a four-year university, where students graduate with an average of US$30,000 in loan debt, the least logical path of upward economic mobility,” Gordon said.

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