The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday unveiled a new education policy focused on tackling the challenges of the nation’s low birthrate, the imbalanced development of secondary education, and the supervision and management of private universities.
Education is one of the most important policy areas with regard to Taiwan’s competitiveness, especially since the nation has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) told a press conference.
The press conference was the first of a series of events during which the party is to unveil its policies on foreign affairs, national defense, energy and other areas that are to form the backbone of its “Green New Deal” initiative ahead of the seven-in-one election in November.
Su has described the initiative, which includes promoting sustainable development, good governance, social justice and alliances with other democracies, as the DPP’s pledge for the country’s future
According to the DPP’s think tank, a decreasing number of students due to the low birthrate has impacted primary schools since 2004, junior-high schools since 2010 and high schools since last year.
Based on the age-specific fertility rates of women in their child-bearing years, Taiwan’s total fertility rate (TFR) — how many children a woman has in her lifetime — is calculated to be less than 1.3, which is much lower than the replacement TFR of approximately 2.1 births needed to maintain a stable population.
The 1.3 figure means that just 200,000 babies are born in Taiwan every year.
The declining number of pupils presents an even more serious challenge for higher education, the think tank said in a report.
In 2012, the vacancy rate for the 162 universities nationwide was 16.85 percent. Based on the current birthrate, about 30 percent of universities — 46 — would not be able to recruit any students by 2022 and would face closure, said National Taiwan University professor Chen Tung-sheng (陳東升), one of the co-authors of the think tank’s education policy report.
To tackle this problem, the party recommended the integration of early childhood education and care to lessen parents’ burden and urged avoiding closing public primary schools unless they are no longer sustainable due to insufficient enrolment.
The current ratio of high schools to vocational high schools, which was 52 to 48 in 2012, was not healthy and should be reversed to a level of about 40 to 60, the party said.
This ratio is more optimal because secondary education should be employment-oriented to ensure that graduates meet the demands of the job market, Chen added.
With regards to higher education, the closure of private universities is inevitable and the think tank recommended that public schools increase their enrolment volume and make sure that underprivileged pupils are able to enroll by providing financial assistance, the professor said
The party’s policy holds the Ministry of Education responsible for strictly monitoring the financial and enrollment status of private universities and would make it take the initiative in transferring students from closed private institutions.
At the same time, the ministry should protect the rights of teachers at private universities that close and make the best possible use of the resulting vacant buildings and properties, the DPP said.