Sun, Mar 10, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Making the grade

Taiwan's institutes of higher learning look to be in better shape than ever, but entry to the WTO may have many of them battling for their academic lives

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Over the past decade, higher education in Taiwan has enjoyed rapid growth. Marked social and economic changes, along with the Ministry of Education's (MOE) adjustment of tuition fees and increase in research grants, as well as governmental recognition of private universities has seen both the number of universities and students skyrocket.

Whereas in 1988 Taiwan had a mere 84 institutes of higher learning, the number of colleges and universities now stands at 143.

Continuing with its support of the nation's higher education system, the MOE instituted the latest of its programs, the Key University Program, late last year. Designed to make the funding of universities by both governmental departments and the private sector more efficient, the program's long-term aim is to ensure that at least 10 of the nation's universities are of a world-class standard.

"Obviously Taiwan's universities are a lot younger than those in the US and UK. And because of this you could say that they are still developing in many ways," explained Li Chen-ching (李桭清), director general of the MOE's bureau of international education relations. "With more research grants and a system of encouraging our leading universities to use institutes such as Cambridge and California Tech as role models, I'm positive that within the next four years we will see Taiwan universities ranked in the top 10 in Asia, if not the world."

With the sweeping changes that have occurred in the nation's education system over the past decade and the abolishment of the Joint Entrance Examinations this year, Taiwan's higher education system should be in a healthy position in which to deal with entry into the WTO.

There are those within the education community, however, who feel the measures taken by the MOE are less than adequate. Scholars such as Ernie Ko (葛傳宇) believe that the writing could be on the wall for higher education in Taiwan unless some radical changes take place not only at the faculty level, but also at a bureaucratic level.

"Reform of bureaucracy is important. The agency itself constantly faces internal struggles that occur between the 137 colleges and universities in Taiwan, the Department of Higher Education and Department of Vocational Education under the MOE respectively," stated Ko. "The MOE is not a division of labor, but conflicts of power and budget struggles."

Money matters

According to Ko the truth behind the debate surrounding the state of higher education is money. He feels that the building of alliances by universities pleases the MOE, but does little to benefit the students and faculties.

In preparation for WTO entry, the MOE endorsed four new regulations late last year.

While acknowledging that some of Taiwan's universities could well be put out of business because of falling student numbers, it is hoped that the new regulations will ensure the future of local education when the effects of WTO on the educational system become apparent over the next six months.

In line with WTO directives, the new regulations will make it easier for foreign nationals to establish bushibans (補習班), or cram schools, enable locally based foreign study-abroad agencies to recruit and process student applications and allow existing foreign schools to provide distance-learning programs.

The most sweeping of the changes in policy, and the one that has sparked heated debate, however, is that of the lifting of the regulation barring foreign universities from the US, Canada, Australia, Britain and other European nations establishing branches of their respective institutes in Taiwan.

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