Master baker Wu Pao-chun (吳寶春) is again in the glare of the media spotlight after local colleges and universities refused him admission to their executive management programs because he does not have a college degree or a “class A technician” certificate. The National University of Singapore has offered Wu admission to its program, citing Wu’s bakery expertise.
This highlights the excessive rigidity in Taiwan’s education system, which discourages innovation and undervalues the importance of fostering talent. The education system is obviously out of date and ill-equipped to adapt to the social and industrial changes of a knowledge-based economy. A major overhaul of the nation’s education system is needed.
Receiving recognition from international bakery circles, Wu won the title of Bakery Master in the bread category at the Bakery World Cup in Paris in 2010. His winning lychee bread, inspired by lychee macarons, helped generate NT$200 million (US$6.7 million) in revenue a year for Wu’s bakery. This figure is stunning, far exceeding the NT$100 million threshold set by the Ministry of Economic Affairs for small and medium-sized enterprises.
As his bakery business rapidly grew, Wu said he felt the need to strengthen his management skills, saying his breadmaking skills did not make him a good corporate manager.
“It takes more [skills and knowledge] to manage a company,” Wu told reporters last week.
He plans to open a second outlet in Taipei, after his first bakery, in Greater Kaohsiung, was overwhelmed by consumer demand.
Wu’s case reflects Taiwan’s talent drain, which is a serious headache for local corporate executives. The inflexibility of the nation’s education system has prevented Wu from upgrading his skills and his business.
The problem is that the Ministry of Education still keeps a tight grip on recruitment at colleges and universities. There was no leeway for colleges or universities to allow Wu to enroll in their Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) programs, even though they knew it would be the right thing to do. The schools know that granting admission to students like Wu would bring them higher-caliber students and prestigious alumni, but regulations disallow it.
The Singaporean government is much smarter than Taiwan’s, because it knows that talent is the key factor supporting the city-state’s economy and enhancing its competitiveness. The Singaporean government allows colleges and universities to recruit talent by interviewing applicants, rather than regarding a degree as the be-all and end-all.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Friday requested the Ministry of Education amend regulations to loosen the rules for enrolling students in EMBA programs, making such advanced management courses available to more businesspeople.
However, Ma’s move was not well-received by the public. There was much debate as to whether loosening the rules was unfair to people who study hard to gain admission to such programs. It was an illustration of how much of the public still believes studying at school and getting a good degree is the only proper avenue to success.
Unemployment among college and university graduates worsened to 5.29 percent last month from 5.13 percent in January, significantly higher than the average of 4.24 percent, the latest jobless figures from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics showed. The unemployment rate for people with advanced degrees has stood at more than 5 percent since 2009.
Myths about higher education still prevail despite the high unemployment rate among college and university graduates. A degree is no guarantee — or indicator — of sucess. To boost Taiwan’s competitiveness, our ailing education system and the public’s mindset need overhauling.