The fall in Taiwan’s birthrate is expected to affect higher education starting 2016. As very few private colleges and universities will take the initiative to close down on their own, the Ministry of the Interior proposed during a Cabinet meeting meeting on Sept. 18 a “private school land feedback mechanism,” broaching the possibility of converting private school land into land for commercial use.
According to the ministry’s proposal, when land classified for private colleges and universities is rezoned for commercial use, just like classification conversion of public facilities, the school should donate 20 percent to 40 percent of its land to the government, as per the stipulations of the Urban Planning Act (都市計畫法). In other words, a school that takes the initiative to close down can enjoy the profit from 60 to 80 percent of the sale of the land.
However, I am afraid that the mechanism may benefit the boards of directors of poorly preforming private schools, and this is not right.
Lee Yen-yi (李彥儀), director of the Ministry of Education’s Department of Technology and Vocational Education, said that once a private school takes the initiative to close down, it could perhaps reinvent itself as an educational, cultural or social welfare institution.
The problem is: How should we deal with the huge profit to be made from rezoning school land? The interior ministry’s proposal of the mechanism somewhat separates a private school’s “organization” from its “land.” So if a school closes down, it will transform into an educational, cultural or social welfare institution and its land will become a piece of commercial land. In that case, will the institution not possess valuable commercial land after this change has been made?
The original function of private school land was to educate future professionals. When a school closes down, its land will lose such function. I believe that its land should be transformed into land for a non-profit organization, and it should never be transformed into land for commercial use that will enable school operators to turn a profit.
Besides, according to Lee, a private school has the option of changing itself into an educational, cultural or social welfare institution. That being so, its land should also go with the institution, therefore turning into land for a non-profit, socially beneficial organization, instead of land for business use. This will ensure that the land now owned by private schools will continue to play a role cultivating future generations.
In addition to tax exemptions, private schools purchased land at low prices simply because they were to be put to cultural or educational use. However, if the government loosens the regulations in this regard in the future, school operators will enjoy enormous profits after such lands are rezoned for commercial use.
Thus, converting private schools’ cheap school lands into expensive business districts is a reward for the poor performance of their boards of directors. If the government generously rewards the people who run poor-performing schools like this, is it fair to the hard-working private schools that perform well?
Philip Chuang is an instructor in Shih Hsin University’s law department.
Translated by Eddy Chang