Fake business-academia tie-ups

By Chou Ping 周平  / 

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - Page 8

In theory, as long as one’s actions are in keeping with one’s conscience, there is no need to be ashamed of them. However, if an action for which one feels no guilt turns out to have an unexpected negative effect in the real world, one has to take responsibility for the consequences of that action; otherwise it has no moral value.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education announced its Implementation Regulations for Industry-Academia Collaboration of Universities and Colleges. The objective of these regulations is to encourage universities and colleges to conduct research that benefits the development of Taiwanese industry and to allow academic institutions to benefit from the results of the research they undertake. In other words, it was designed so that academic research would be of practical use.

The second article of the regulations defines the concept of industry-academia collaboration. It says that the purpose of collaboration between industry and universities and colleges is to promote the accumulation and distribution of knowledge, with educational establishments playing their role of teaching, training, research and service for the benefit of the country’s education and economic development. The National Science Council also drew up regulations governing the subsidies it provides for joint research projects between industry and academic institutions.

On the face of it, these official policies seem well intended. If correctly implemented, they should be beneficial in matching up academic research with the needs of industry. The reality is a little different, however. While there have been some successful cases, a lot of technical colleges’ industry-academia collaboration policies have led to cases of malpractice that run completely contrary to their original intention. These instances show some aspects of the way administration works in traditional Chinese culture, such as feigned compliance and finding ways to get around official policies.

Following the establishment of the Taiwan Higher Education Union earlier this year, quite a number of union members have shared their personal experiences of bogus industry-academia collaboration projects. The Ministry of Education’s requirements for the allocation of rewards and subsidies say that the sum of money involved in each case must be at least NT$50,000 for the project to be counted as an accomplishment for the school. Many schools accordingly stipulate the same sum of money in their teacher evaluations, pressuring teachers to have at least one such project registered every one or two years, by whatever means necessary. One privately run technical college registered more than 100 such projects in June and last month alone.

In order to get promoted, or at least not to lose their jobs, many teachers find they have no option but to betray their academic consciences by coming up with the required NT50,000 or more themselves and working with companies to set up bogus industry-academia collaboration projects. They then get their schools to reimburse them for the money they put up. Officials turn a blind eye and go along with the fraud, thus completing the tacit conspiracy so as to notch up achievements. For the sake of implementing industry-academia projects, some universities find trusted and accommodating people to serve as deans of research and development or heads of department and these people play the front-line role of exploiting teachers under the guise of industry-academia collaboration.

People have come up with an astonishing number of ways to play this industry-academia collaboration game. In one case, teachers in a Chinese department collaborated with a clinic to investigate the rhetoric used in composing medical records. In another, teachers in a foreign languages department cooperated with pig farms on improving pig farmers’ foreign language ability. With all these scams taking place, the departments in charge should not be indifferent to their responsibilities and ethics. It is true that the ministry recently issued a feeble notice concerning this issue, reminding schools that they should pay attention to the practical benefits that industry-academia collaboration projects offer in actually solving problems for businesses. The ministry’s notice says that schools should not overemphasize the number of industry-academia collaboration projects they register and the amount of money involved. However, one gets the impression that the ministry is once again just going through the motions and does not really intend to do anything about it.

What the ministry should do is actively investigate colleges that forge documents and register bogus industry-academia collaboration projects to fraudulently obtain government subsidies. It should introduce a whistleblower protection clause to safeguard teachers who refuse to go along with such fraudulent practices and who are brave enough to expose them, so as to rectify the situation in which teachers who commit fraud get promoted, while those who do not are not asked to re-sign their contracts. If the ministry fails to recognize the things that have gone wrong in implementing industry-academia collaboration, and if does not take responsibility for these failures, the Control Yuan should step in and do something about it.

Chou Ping is chair of Nan Hua University’s Department of Applied Sociology and a board member of the Taiwan Higher Education Union.

Translated by Julian Clegg