Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Politics and infighting damaging universities

By Paul Wang 王伯元

When the national university entrance exam results are released, students and their parents get busy calculating their ideal universities based on the score and preparing application documents. However, there is a tendency that deserves attention: Many students from reputable senior-high schools set their sights on schools overseas.

In recent years, many students have abandoned National Taiwan University for Peking University and Tsinghua University in China, the University of Hong Kong, the National University of Singapore and prestigious European and US institutions.

The number of students going abroad is growing every year, and Ministry of Education data show that the number of high-school graduates continuing their studies overseas increased significantly between 2010 and 2015. This is worrying.

Students should of course take advantage of the opportunities brought by internationalization. Taiwan’s economic miracle can be credited to the many students that returned home with cutting-edge knowledge that drove the development of the entire technology industry.

However, it is worrying that if the quality of Taiwan’s higher education continues to deteriorate and the international ranking of its universities keeps slipping, more students will study abroad. If the employment environment and salary levels in Taiwan are not sufficiently appealing, the nation will be exporting all its outstanding talent and its domestic access to highly talented employees will dry up.

Taiwan is losing not only outstanding students, but also teachers. Last month, Kang Shih-chung (康仕仲), a National Taiwan University professor and deputy vice president of academic affairs, said he had been recruited by the University of Alberta in Canada, and would be receiving 10 times more research funds and lab space.

This is not an isolated case. If things do not improve, it will be impossible to retain talented people and attract renowned international academics.

Taiwanese universities receive a much smaller budget than their Chinese counterparts. The annual budgets of Tsinghua and Peking universities, to name but two, exceed NT$100 billion (US$3.42 billion) and NT$80 billion respectively.

In Taiwan these budgets are dwindling: The 2006 to 2015 NT$100 billion “Aim for the Top University Project” initiative was followed up with another five-year higher education program with less funding. How will Taiwanese universities be able to stay competitive?

Taiwanese universities have been dropping in global university rankings. In the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, National Taiwan University dropped to 198th place.

Although the number of undergraduate and graduate students is growing, competitiveness is not. Instead, graduates remain unemployed while businesses complain of a lack of talented employees.

Education is a long-term plan that stretches across generations and it is an essential preparation for future global challenges. Educational policy should therefore transcend ideology and focus on vision and continuity.

However, in Taiwan, education has been sacrificed to government transitions and the cross-strait conflict.

Non-professionals direct educational reform, students exert influence over curriculum guidelines and politicians interfere in university autonomy, but no one knows how to train internationally competitive talent.

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