To resolve a decades-long problem with higher education in Taiwan and to boost international competitiveness, the Ministry of Education last year launched the Yushan Scholars Program, but two reports in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times) address some issues with the program.
The first article points out the program’s sluggish progress: It has to date attracted less than 50 percent of the target number of international scholars. This year, appointments are one-third of the target for the year. Moreover, the number of scholars who take up posts tends to be much lower than the number initially expressing interest.
The second article reports that the Ministry of Education has budgeted NT$3 billion (US$98 million) for universities to encourage domestic scholars to stay in Taiwan. The money is to be used for flexible salaries and research subsidies. It is estimated that the policy will benefit 30,000 Taiwanese.
It is worth briefly exploring the budget for the Yushan Scholars Program and examining the flexible salaries provided for local academics.
The ministry has budgeted NT$1,176 million per year for the 2018 to 2020 period and plans to employ 300 international scholars, so each Yushan scholar would receive about an additional NT$4 million a year.
The amount budgeted in that period to encourage local academics to remain in Taiwan is NT$3.06 billion and about 30,000 young and senior academics are expected to participate, so each subsidized domestic scholar would receive about an additional NT$100,000 a year.
Due to teaching and research commitments at their home institution and abroad, the period for which a Yushan scholar is required to stay in Taiwan each year can be as short as three months (about the length of summer vacation), according to the ministry. It works out that they would receive an additional NT$1 million per academic quarter for their stay in Taiwan.
The money that a Yushan scholar receives per academic quarter is equal to the allowance that a Taiwanese professor receives over 10 years. In other words, the money that a Yushan scholar can earn during three summer vacations is equivalent to the allowance that a Taiwanese professor might receive — regardless of how much they teach, research and serve their university both on and off campus — over the course of an entire academic career.
In the chapter “Autumn Floods” (秋水) in the ancient Chinese Taoist classic Zhuangzi (莊子), the following scene is depicted: “An owl found a putrid dead rat to eat. When a phoenix passed overhead, it looked up and gave an angry scream.” (於是鴟得腐鼠，鵷鶵過之，仰而視之曰：嚇！).
Does the Ministry of Education take foreign academics to be phoenixes and treat local academics as owls?
Lin Juhn-jong is a professor at National Chiao Tung University’s Institute of Physics and Department of Electrophysics.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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