NTU flaw is hurting prospects of graduates

By Kengchi Goah 吳耿志  / 

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - Page 8

By all accounts, Taiwan is in the grip of a serious economic crisis. A major symptom of this is the unusually high unemployment rate among recent graduates with advanced degrees. This runs against the conventional wisdom that higher education translates into a good job that pays well.

The shattered expectations of these graduates make one wonder what, or where, the broken link is. Are the job seekers to blame? Or is the educational system the culprit?

The answer can be found in issue No. 40 of Electrical Engineering’s Friend, a monthly newsletter published by the Electrical Engineering and Information Technology Institute of National Taiwan University (NTU). The institute boasts a faculty of 162 (92 full professors, 34 associate professors and 36 assistant professors) with a graduate student body of 2,567 (1,533 candidates for a master’s degree and 1,034 doctoral candidates).

Anyone can see the fault in the university’s system: the student-to-professor (or adviser) ratio, 15.8, is way higher than the norm in similar academic institutions around the world.

A search on Google reveals that the typical graduate student-to-adviser ratio in most higher education institutions is between two and three, with an upper limit of five, much lower than 15.8. Furthermore, a graduate program, and in particular a doctorate, also requires a committee consisting of three to four faculty members in addition to the supervising professor. If the institute does this, a serious conflict between quantity and quality arises because each professor could possibly end up having more than 25 graduate students under his or her supervision.

An abnormally high student-to-professor ratio implies multiple consequences, none desirable.

Most professors specialize in one field, concentrating on just a few subjects within it. They cannot effectively cover a student group of 25 or more, each with diverse interests. Students who have chosen to study subjects that lie beyond a professor’s expertise will be poorly supported. Worse, given the time and effort many professors commit to their students, in addition to their teaching and research responsibilities, the attention each student receives will be low if the group is so big. Consequently, the true goal of higher education is sacrificed and resources wasted.

NTU has been the leading regional academic institution for years. It is inconceivable that this problem exists. As a public institution with so many resources poured into it, society is owed an explanation.

Kengchi Goah is a senior research fellow of the Taiwan Public Policy Council in the US.