Sun, May 01, 2016 - Page 3 News List

University figures fudged: union

STUDENT-TEACHER RATIOS:Among other problems, foreign students are not counted as students in a ministry tally, while military instructors are deemed teachers, critics said

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Education’s formula for calculating the student-teacher ratio of the nation’s universities is “watered down” with fudged figures, union representatives said yesterday, calling ministry moves to increase the ratio of teachers to students “inadequate.”

“While trying to make improvements is a step in the right direction, the indices the ministry is using are watered down,” Taiwan Higher Education Union organization department director Lin Po-yi (林柏儀) said. “The student-teacher ratio is a critical indicator of the quality of a university’s education, but the ministry’s estimates do not include many students, and count as ‘teachers’ many people who do not teach.”

Starting yesterday, the required student-teacher ratio at universities fell from 32:1, to 27:1, Lin said, adding that the calculation fails to count any foreign students — including Chinese students.

“For teachers, foreign students are still students, but strangely they are not included in the ministry’s calculations,” Lin said, adding that the ministry’s formula only counts foreign students if they comprise at least 10 percent of a university’s student body — a precondition which none of the nation’s universities meet.

He also criticized the ministry for counting a student who works during the day and takes evening or weekend classes as only half a regular student, and valuing military instructors, teaching assistants and administrative personnel, such as school presidents, as teachers.

“While military instructors do teach, they are not full-time instructors, and their courses are not academic,” he said, adding that military instructors were primarily responsible for providing students with “life guidance,” as well as directing occasional military training classes.

He said that more than 3,000 people without teaching positions are counted as teachers under the ministry’s formula, relative to the nation’s 48,000 full-time instructors.

He said that universities’ average student-teacher ratio of 26.1:1 is still comparatively high, up from 18:1 in 1990 after huge increases in the number university students as part of efforts to increase access to university education.

As student numbers started to fall following years of low-birth rates, bringing the ratio back to former levels would improve the quality of university education and also prevent massive lay-offs among private-university professors, he said.

Elementary, middle and high schools, which have already been hit with falling student numbers, have mostly responded by reducing class sizes, partially because their instructors have guaranteed government positions, Lin said.

In contrast, instructors employed by private universities do not have their positions guaranteed by the government, making them vulnerable to being “sacrificed,” even if preserving their jobs would improve the quality of education an institution offers, he said.

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