Academics questioned over allegations of subsidy fraud

Staff writer, with CNA

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - Page 3

Five associate and assistant professors in Greater Tainan have been questioned for allegedly selling degrees and defrauding the Ministry of Education of more than NT$10 million (US$345,300) in subsidies.

The Tainan District Prosecutors’ Office ordered them released after questioning on Friday on bail ranging from NT$100,000 to NT$1 million for alleged forgery and fraud.

This is the latest scandal involving university faculty following recent accusations about university professors using false receipts to claim payment or subsidies from their schools and the National Science Council.

In 2008, the nation’s private universities began having difficulties recruiting students as a result of the nation’s declining birth rate and the ministry introduced a policy to subsidize students of special status, such as Aborigines, mentally or physically challenged children or the children of civil servants, teachers or military staff killed in the line of duty.

However, the ministry’s screening is based only on the information submitted by the schools.

Investigators said they found that starting in 2009, Yeh Yi-chang (葉義章), a former secretary at Taiwan Shoufu University and now an assistant professor at Hsin Kuo University of Management, allegedly recruited Aborigines to the school’s further education programs, but then forged papers to enroll them as formally registered students to get subsidies from the ministry.

The subsidies were then divided between the school’s further education center and a company set up by Yeh at a ratio of 20:80, the investigators said.

After Young Shuenn-tsong (楊順聰) assumed the presidency of Shoufu University in 2011, he found Yeh’s behavior to “have gone overboard” and fired him.

Yeh then went to Hsin Kuo University of Management, where he collaborated with others to transfer the “phantom” students from Shoufu University to Hsin Kuo, and continued to claim subsidies from the ministry, the investigators said.

Both Shoufu and Hsin Kuo universities on Friday said that they were victims too, and would work with the judicial authorities on the matter.

In a statement, Shoufu University said it felt “sadness and regret” over the matter.

The school found irregularities while making reimbursement claims for related accounts two years ago, it added.

After conducting an internal probe, the chairman, president and accounting and personnel chiefs received anonymous threats and the school decided to solicit assistance from the Investigation Bureau’s Tainan office.

According to investigators, a number of professors admitted their illicit actions during interrogation, but argued that “other schools are doing the same thing.”

This has led investigators to be concerned that the case may just be the tip of the iceberg, and they have asked the ministry to conduct a comprehensive probe.

Vice Minister of Education Chen Der-hwa (陳德華) expressed regret over the case and described the alleged fraud as the first in the country and said the ministry will form a team to deal with the crisis.

He said the ministry will demand that the schools return the subsidies, and mete out administrative discipline, including fines, cuts in recruitment numbers and the withholding of subsidies.

Investigators also said that 17 students received diplomas from schools in this way.

An education official said that if the students have not attended classes, the ministry would deal with the case rigorously and possibly revoke the diplomas.