Sun, Sep 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

The ‘Yushan Project’ will not repair education

By Allen Houng 洪裕宏

The salaries of the nation’s professors fall well below those in neighboring nations, while the government’s controversial reforms have cut pensions for civil servants, public-school teachers and the military.

Consequently, Taiwan is facing a higher education crisis.

Not that government ministers are indifferent to the problem: The government’s educational incentive plan, called the “Yushan Project” — which aims to raise salaries of top academics — reflects officials’ concern over the “brain drain” problem in higher education.

The government hopes the policy would placate increasingly anxious teachers while stemming the outflow of high-level talent.

Will the plan work, or will it — as some commentators are predicting — simply hasten the collapse of higher education?

The Yushan Project comprises two components: First, it provides funding for 500 “Yushan Scholars,” who are to receive an annual salary starting at NT$6 million (US$198,965). Second, professors engaged in academic research at public universities are to receive an additional monthly allowance of NT$5,445.

As the average worker in Taiwan struggles to put food on the table, teachers’ complaints might appear somewhat crass.

However, because the government has cut teachers’ pension payments — including for those already in retirement living off their retirement income — working teachers must expend significant time and effort increasing their savings, managing investments and perhaps working a second job.

Most university teachers do not come from wealthy families and few benefit from an inheritance. The pension cut will therefore have a serious effect on the quality of teachers and academic research.

To make ends meet, only those with a passion for their subject will choose to pursue a career in teaching and research. The effect this could have on the quality of these fields is worrying.

Only raising the research allowance for professors will not solve the crisis. The correct approach is to substantially raise the salaries of all university teachers, including those at private institutions. This would somewhat offset the pension reductions.

Moreover, adding only a meager NT$5,445 per month to teachers’ salaries is an idiotic policy.

From the teachers’ perspective, the increase provides little real benefit. Since the sum would be given as an allowance and not added to their basic salaries, their pensions will not benefit. An additional NT$5,000 a month works out to NT$60,000 per annum, or NT$900,000 over 15 years — not enough to serve as a relief fund, let alone boost morale.

The annual starting salary of NT$6 million being offered to 500 academics is also problematic.

The Ministry of Education has said that the nation’s top academic institutions are to propose nominees, who are to be reviewed by a national inter-departmental committee.

Why are academic institutions not trusted to nominate these academics and then apply for funding made available by the government, like a regular scholarship program? All the ministry would need to do is make regular checks.

Furthermore, the committee seems obsessed with “linking industry with academia.” Such thinking has been disastrous for academia as the humanities are invariably overlooked.

If the ministry insists on advancing the project, university teachers will continue to be filled with pessimism and higher education will suffer as a result.

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