President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday defended setting a family income threshold for free high-school tuition in the proposed 12-year education plan, promising to make free education for all a reality when the government has more money.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus on Tuesday reached an agreement with the Executive Yuan to raise the proposed threshold to NT$1.48 million (US$49,500) annual income from NT$1.14 million.
The Democratic Progressive Party criticized the revision, saying 12 years of education should be compulsory and tuition-free.
“The decision [to set an income threshold] was made because there are no alternatives,” Ma said as he presided over the KMT’s Central Standing Committee in his capacity as party chairman.
“When the government has more money to budget, we will provide full tuition subsidies for high-school students,” he said.
The committee had invited Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) to present a report on the 12-year education proposal.
Chiang said the plan aimed to ease the burden on students by providing more exam-free admission quotas for high schools while promoting vocational education.
He said the government would not make more changes in its proposal regarding the income threshold.
If the proposal is passed by the legislature and takes effect in August next year as planned, first-year students at public or private high schools whose families have an annual income of less than NT$1.48 million will not have to pay tuition fees.
First-year students from families with a higher annual income would have to pay NT$6,240 a semester at public schools or NT$22,800 at private schools.
Vocational high-school students would not have to pay tuition regardless of their families’ income.
Meanwhile, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) also defended the threshold policy yesterday.
“The burden would not be too heavy” for a family with an annual income of NT$1.48 million to pay tuition fees for their children, while the valuable educational resources saved as a result could be used to improve the quality of education for the vast majority of children who would be eligible for free tuition, he said.
Asked when the government would be able to provide free high-school education for all students, Jiang did not give a timetable, saying that it would depend on the nation’s economic and fiscal situation.
The government’s immediate concern is to improve quality of teaching in senior high schools and to reduce inequalities among and within the nation’s 15 school districts to sustain the 12-year education plan, Jiang said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan