Everyone loses with university closures

By Chang Ruay-shiung 張瑞雄  / 

Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 8

The Ministry of Education last week announced the enrollment rates for the nation’s 162 universities and colleges, showing that 19 institutions are at less than 60 percent of capacity.

This announcement is likely to be used as reference by students and parents ahead of the next semester.

The Lunar New Year will not be relaxing for staff at these institutions, because the draft university and college exit strategy act stipulates that institutions with fewer than 3,000 students that do not reach an enrollment rate of 60 percent for two consecutive years are to be listed as in need of special guidance, which means government intervention aimed at bringing about improvements within a certain period of time.

If improvements fall short of expectations, the institution must stop enrollments and either transform within three years or close down.

While the ministry’s transparency is good, such information could have a severe affect on some institutions and it needs to provide complementary measures to help them survive.

The ministry has placed a cap on tuition fees. If an institution breaches this cap to cater to the well-off by charging higher tuition fees, hiring well-known foreign teachers and guaranteeing overseas studies upon graduation, it would be certain to receive high-level students.

Would the ministry allow such a plan?

Public institutions set up under the ministry could also contribute. For example, three national technical universities in Kaohsiung recently merged. The question is if their enrollment numbers have gone down or if the ministry’s expenditures have been reduced. Probably not, otherwise they would not have agreed to it.

While this would result in fewer universities, one cannot help but wonder about the significance of the merger as it appears not to have led to any general improvements to enrollment numbers or distribution of expenditures.

Faced with this pressure, institutions with lower enrollment rates are likely blame the low birthrate. However, regardless of how hard they work, students will not attend institutions that are inconveniently located or those involved in scandals. The affect of the ministry’s announcement might speed up the closure of such institutions.

As institutions close, students can transfer, but many teachers face unemployment. Unless they are willing to move, finding new teaching positions might be difficult. Even chefs and hotel managers might have to once again try their luck in the labor market. Humanities teachers will be even worse off.

Universities still have some hope: accepting large numbers of Chinese students. Unfortunately cross-strait relations are poor.

Although institutions are seeking students in accordance with the New Southbound Policy, the language barrier is problematic.

Most Southeast Asian countries are developing economies, and Taiwan is not their first choice when looking to study abroad. Even if they do come here, schools have to spend a fair amount on grants, English instruction or Chinese-language tuition before school starts, assistance with daily life issues and so on. The tuition fees they charge often do not cover such costs.

This is of course an unavoidable result of the low birthrate. Some institutions will have to close, but unhappy private institutions might procrastinate for as long as they possibly can.

If they close, everyone loses: The ministry has to deal with the aftermath, the institutions’ boards are left with nothing, the teachers lose their jobs and the students have to switch schools.

Is there a solution that creates more winners than losers? That is a question for the government.

Chang Ruay-shiung is the president of National Taipei University of Business.

Translated by Perry Svensson