In less than two years, the Asia-Pacific Institute of Creativity (APIC), a private college in Miaoli County, lost more than 70 percent of its students and stopped recruiting students for 19 of its programs — some of which once boasted an enrollment rate of 100 percent.
During its best years, the school had more than 10,000 students; today, it has less than 900. The Tourism and Hospitality program is the only program at APIC that is still accepting students, and last year it recruited only one.
More than 20 APIC teachers and students, who have launched nearly half a dozen protests demanding that the government dismiss the school board, have said that certain board members are almost single-handedly responsible for the school’s imminent closure.
Yi-shen Group (怡盛集團), a corporation best known for its security services, took over the APIC school board in August 2016 after it promised to donate NT$480 million (US$16.4 million) to the school, APIC teacher Huang Hui-chih (黃惠芝) said.
However, the corporation paid less than NT$150 million and began closing most of its programs, forcing students to transfer or drop out, and illegally cutting teachers’ pay, she said.
“The board has no intention of running the school. They only want the Ministry of Education to close it down and let them run a different business using the school’s resources,” she said.
Like many other private universities and colleges, APIC could be classified as a public asset, because the ministry has granted land-use rights and given large subsidies that are, ultimately, funded by taxpayers.
APIC teachers have said they suspect that Yi-shen is planning to keep the school’s NT$1.6 billion in assets under its control by applying to transform the school into a for-profit culture or welfare institution once a bill governing the transformation of private schools is passed.
“We found that Yi-shen chairman Huang Ping-chang (黃平璋) in 2016 and last year set up two companies — Huaide Art (懷德文創藝術) and Hongguan Academy (泓觀書院) — and registered them at the same address as APIC, but he has never paid rent nor signed any contracts with the school,” APIC associate professor Tang Jen-chung (湯仁忠) said.
APIC public relations officer Lin Shun-Ying (林舜英) said the school has no plans to transform itself into a different institution, and defended its decision to stop recruiting students for many of its programs.
“The school in 2016 decided to reduce its programs, because some could not recruit enough students. The plan was to help the school survive by eliminating underperforming programs and focus on our strengths. The decision was approved by the ministry,” Lin said.
The school board plans to continue running the school, and rumors about it trying to transform APIC into a different institution is pure conjecture, she said, adding that she has never heard of the two companies founded by Huang Ping-chang at the school’s address.
The Executive Yuan on Nov. 23 last year approved a draft act governing the closure and transformation of private universities and colleges.
According to ministry, the bill aims to eliminate poor-quality schools to ensure more effective use of the nation’s education resources, as student numbers have been steadily decreasing due to dwindling birth rates.
In 2016, universities in Taiwan planned to recruit 46,192 students, but the actual number of students that applied for the university entrance exams was 44,958. This marked the first time that there were fewer students applying than schools actually aimed to recruit, and the gap is still growing.
Under the proposed act, private universities and colleges with poor enrollment rates, serious financial difficulties or poor-quality education, or those that have failed to pay faculty salaries for three months or violated education laws, would be placed on a watch list and consulted.
If the schools then fail to improve by a designated date, they would be ordered to shut down and given a chance to transform into a different institution, such as a secondary or elementary school, or a social welfare or culture-related institution.
To protect students’ rights, the ministry would allocate NT$5 billion to cover additional expenses for students forced to transfer to a new school due to the bill. The budget would also be used to offer loans to schools, which they could use to pay staff severance packages and other expenses necessary for their transformation.
While APIC teachers agree that it is necessary to close some of the nation’s private universities and colleges, they question the government’s decision to grant corporations control over massive public assets.
“Yi-shen has gained control of the school’s assets by paying an extremely cheap price, and now the draft bill is proposing to use NT$5 billion from taxpayers to help schools like APIC transform into private businesses,” Huang Hui-chih said, adding that public resources should not be handed to corporations in such a manner.
“Teachers can find other jobs and students will find other schools, but the land should be returned to the government. When the bill is passed, at least 40 schools could be transformed. Is the ministry going to let this happen to every school? That would be very wrong,” she said.
APIC teachers are not alone in criticizing the ministry’s financial policies for private schools.
Chiao Nian-ping (喬念平), a former instructor at the Taipei University of Marine Technology, said the university received a NT$900 million loan from the government to construct a new building and pool, even though it has more than 100 unused classrooms.
“I have worked at private schools for 35 years and I know how the boards work,” he said, adding that many boards are unsupervised and “do whatever they want.”
“They know the government could close the school down, so they want to secure some things first. Why are they spending so much money expanding the campus now? I will let you think about that,” he said.
“The act governing the closure and transformation of universities and colleges is a scam,” Shu-te University associate professor Dong Gow-Ming (唐國銘) said. “Its purpose is to [help school boards] gain money and other advantages from the Legislative Yuan.”
Dong believes school boards should be held responsible for running poor-quality schools instead of being rewarded with opportunities to run new businesses.
“How can you let those corrupt board members use the disadvantaged people at their new social welfare institutions as a cover for their illicit deeds?” he added.
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