Tue, Aug 22, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Supporters protest student's trial

FOCAL POINT The trial of Yang Wei-chung on charges of violating the Assembly and Parade Law has served as a lightning rod for anger over the law and tuition hikes

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Protesters from the Public Education Alliance and Laborer Parent Union chant slogans outside the Taipei District Court yesterday in support of social activist Yang Wei-chung and against the ``commercialization of education.''

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

On May 13, Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) plodded through a crowd of livid students. The front doors of the Ministry of Education were barely visible behind a shifting flank of riot police and an iron gate. Yang stuck his foot in the gate's grill, intending to climb over the barrier. That's when police yanked him down and arrested him in front of an army of TV cameras.

"I've participated in many raucous protests -- in the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] era, no less -- but that was the first time I had such a run-in with the cops," Yang said.

Yang and a group of university students had applied for and received permission to deliver a petition to the ministry on May 13 calling on it to end tuition hikes, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said.

However, police blocked their way, apprehending petitioners who dared to exercise their right to approach the ministry with the petition, Yang said.

LAW CONDEMNED

Yang was back in the spotlight yesterday, along with Lai and several civic groups, protesting the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) at the Taipei District Court, where Yang was on trial for disturbing public order.

Protesters from the Public Education Alliance, the Laborer Parent Union and other civic organizations assembled on the court's front steps, proclaiming Yang's innocence and slamming the "commercialization of education."

"A-bian [President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) nickname] has said that education should be a personal investment, but look how much money has been wasted by government corruption -- money that could have been used to help disadvantaged students," said Hsu Hsin-jen (徐信仁), a member of the Public Education Alliance.

"If we add up all the money that was allegedly illicitly used by A-bian and his associates and family, we can arrive at a figure of about NT$870 million [US$27 million]," Hsu said. That's enough to send 1,450 disadvantaged students to a private university for four years, or 2,900 disadvantaged students to a public university for four years."

MINISTRY ATTACKED

Liu Hui-min (劉惠敏), a spokeswoman for the Public Education Alliance, told the Taipei Times that universities are courting more corporations these days because of the lack of government funding, leading to an overemphasis on business-related academic fields, as well as continuous tuition hikes.

"The Ministry of Education has given up on investing in higher education," Yang said.

Lin Bo-i (林柏儀), a law student at Taiwan National University and a member of the Public Education Alliance, agreed that the ministry wasn't doing enough to reform tertiary institutions, adding that rising tuition fees had been an issue since a flawed higher education policy was implemented in 1990.

"To meet demand from the country's students seeking a university education, the ministry upgraded many vocational schools to the status of private universities in 1990. But it didn't try to ensure that such newly designated universities were on a par with what private universities are supposed to offer. The influx of university students nationwide at that point meant less financial assistance per student," Lin said.

TUITION HIKES DEFENDED

An official in the ministry's Department of Higher Education challenged the notion that the ministry had stopped investing in higher education.

The official said rising educational costs were the result of universities applying to the ministry, according to strict procedures, to raise tuition.

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