The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published the annual Global Competitiveness Report 2004-2005. Taiwan ranked No. 4 among 104 countries and came out on top in Asia, retaining the No. 1 position in competitiveness in the region. It is truly remarkable that in global competitiveness, Taiwan follows only Finland, the US and Sweden, up one place from last year.
In the WEF's 1999 report, although Taiwan was also ranked No. 4 globally -- after Singapore, the US and Hong Kong -- it was No. 3 in Asia. Five years later, Singapore and Hong Kong dropped to No. 7 and No. 21 respectively. From a political perspective, Hong Kong's competitiveness has been in decline since the territory was handed over to China in 1997. China itself dropped to No. 46 from the No. 32 position in only five years.
The WEF's annual report is mainly based on eight factors: Openness of an economy; role of the government; development of financial markets; quality and quantity of infrastructure; quality of technology; quality of business management; efficiency and flexibility of labor markets; and the quality of judicial and political institutions. It is thus evident that all these are directly or indirectly related to an economy's political environment.
As for Taiwan, its supply of laborers has become worse every year. Also, the government's economic policy is unstable, and the fairness and stability of its judicial system still awaits improvement. What Taiwan has to be introspective about the most is the government's credibility and the efficiency of public policies. Apart from the chaotic legislature that has damaged Taiwan's image and the government's implementation of public policies, I believe that we also have to reform the attitude and efficiency of public servants.
From an educational perspective, among the above eight factors, the one the least affected by politics is perhaps technology. As expected, Taiwan has been in the top three globally in this category over the past few years, and ranked No. 2 this year. Rather than our technology education, the WEF's report focuses on our outstanding manufacturing industry and excellent engineers. In fact, traditional engineering departments and institutes are unable to cultivate the engineering talent that we need today. Although curriculum reform for engineering schools has always been a hot topic, much is said but little has been done.
Many universities are now developing various inter-department or inter-school academic programs -- including micro-electro mechanical engineering, semiconductor design and manufacturing, and nano-material and technology -- in order to fulfill the industry's needs.
As far as public universities are concerned, it is easier for them to develop new programs with their abundant resources. But the Ministry of Education has delayed acknowledgement of the legitimacy of such programs or diplomas, which has reduced students' willingness to participate in these programs.
Private universities are hesitant to create new programs, in order not to crowd out existing programs and teachers. As a result, the industry often needs to educate its employees itself.
Today, we are proud to be the world's No. 4 and Asia's No. 1 in terms of competitiveness. Hopefully, this great honor will bring us self-confidence and self-respect, and eliminate people's conflicts over different ideologies, so we can come together and march into the future together. If we can unite, this tiny nation will certainly become the world's most competitive country in the near future.
Franklin Lee is the dean of the School of Engineering at Chinese Culture University.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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