EDITORIAL: Rethinking a university education

Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 8

In a society where a vast majority of people now go to university and not doing so is seen as bringing great shame on the family, it is interesting to read that 75.7 percent of Taiwanese believe that a vocational education can still lead to a bright future.

That result came from a Huang Kun-huei Education Foundation telephone survey of 1,074 people, the results of which were announced on Saturday.

Foundation officials said there has been a shift in the public’s attitude toward vocational education, adding that government neglect of the sector has led to unemployment among young people while industries are unable to find skilled employees.

Society has long perceived vocational schools as places for students who fare poorly academically. In a value system where good grades matter more than learning, this is a good sign that many people are actually starting to value professional skills instead of emphasizing entry to a top university to study something that might be interesting, but not very practical.

In the US, it is understood that not everyone goes to college. Some towns do not have universities, but vocational training centers where people learn skills such as practical nursing, welding, even robotics.

However, in Taiwan, too many people go to university just for the sake of entering university, whether it be due to familial pressure or simply to follow the “natural path” that everyone else is taking.

Many of these students end up majoring in whatever subject their university entrance exam scores could get them into, without a real passion, which leads to great frustration among professors.

It is very common to hear “I just got accepted” as the answer when asking someone why they chose to study a particular subject.

When they graduate, such students have no interest in pursuing the subject of their studies, nor do they have any other skills — unless they actively pursued an interest in their spare time — and end up working menial office jobs for NT$22,000 a month and complain about the low pay and lack of advancement. So what was the point of a college education?

Yet, at the same time, firms needing carpenters, electricians, welders and other “blue-collar” trades are having a hard time finding employees, and factories end up hiring migrant workers while college graduates complain they cannot find any job, much less a suitable one.

Exacerbating the problem is that the nation’s declining birth rate has meant that many of the universities established in recent decades now suffer from overcapacity and are having to shutter some departments because of a dearth of students.

It is clear that the educational system no longer fits either the nation’s or students’ needs, and the government knows it. In March, the Ministry of Education released the latest vocational training policy guidelines, part of its effort to make vocational education a respectable option.

Among the ministry’s efforts are introducing skills and career options to elementary-school students through “day-on-the-job” opportunities and field trips to various industries. It also proposes improving career counseling and assessment programs in secondary education.

The guidelines stress practicality and real-life experience, which are exactly what Taiwan’s educational system lacks.

Industry involvement is also important, as is making vocational licenses and certifications more valuable.

However, even with these guidelines, change will not occur if society continues to emphasize familial pride or status over solid career training.

It is not a shame if your daughter or son does not go to college; having the training for a solid career is much more important. As such, the poll’s results are truly welcoming.