President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said the cultivation of talented Taiwanese is a long-lasting challenge in education, and promised to turn Taiwan into a major center of higher education in Asia by investing more in higher education and attracting more foreign students.
“Taiwan is falling behind in the investment in higher education compared to our neighbors, including mainland China, Singapore and South Korea. There is room for improvement, and the key is whether we have enough budget and determination to make breakthroughs in higher education,” he said.
Ma, who doubles as the KMT chairman, made the remarks during a meeting of the KMT’s Central Standing Committee.
The committee had invited Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) to present a report on the ministry’s Talent Cultivation White Paper, which outlines its plans for developing talent and improving the quality of education over the next 10 years.
The plans include an investment of NT$41 billion (US$1.3 billion) over the next three years, to increase the number of public kindergartens to 100 in five years, enhance training courses in vocational schools, attract more foreign students and encourage Taiwanese to study abroad.
The ministry will also encourage colleges and universities to establish “professional” and “academic” tracks for masters’ programs. It will launch trial “degree tracks” program at 40 universities, Chiang said.
Increasing the number of Taiwanese pursuing higher education abroad will also be a priority, Ma said, citing the decline of students heading overseas since he took office in 2008.
The number of Taiwanese studying overseas dropped from 37,000 in 2008 to 30,000 last year. There are about 24,000 now pursuing higher education in the US, less than half the 50,000 there more than 30 years ago, while the number of Chinese students in the US has reached 150,000, Ma said.
There were 67,000 foreigners studying in Taiwan last year, he said.
“Studying aboard is a way to cultivate great talent. Attracting foreign students to our country is equally important if we want to raise our international competitiveness in terms of education. We need to make more of an effort in both aspects,” he said.
The ministry’s white paper also warns that the falling birth rate will have a major impact on school enrollment nationwide, as well as the country’s future strength.
The number of newborns dropped from 326,000 in 1997 to 271,000 in 1998, meaning that there will be 55,000 fewer students at universities in 2016, a drop of nearly 20 percent, the white paper says. Even if all Taiwanese born in 1998 were admitted to universities, they would represent a 19 percent drop compared with the 290,000 freshmen who started university this year, it says.
The number of newborns fell to 167,000 in 2010, and if the situation remains unchanged and the current pace of aging continues, the total productivity of university graduates in 2028 will need to double that of this year’s graduates to maintain the country’s development, the paper says.
The number of people aged over 65 accounting for 13 percent of the total population this year, a percentage that is forecast to rise to 20 percent in 2016, the paper says.
The white paper is the result of 10 months of discussion among academics and experts. It was published on the ministry’s Web site yesterday. It says the goal is to provide Taiwanese students with “six key powers” — those of “global movement” (foreign language ability, international perspective and wilingness to travel); the ability to get a job and problem-solve, innovation, “cross-field power” (communication, analysis and judgement), ability to use information tools; and the initiative to participate in social activities and promote public interests.