The media and the public are discussing and criticizing direct selling on college campuses, dismissing students as materialistic. Such criticism is not only too strong, but also unfair.
First, we need to clarify whether direct selling firms are legal in Taiwan. If they are registered and approved by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and they and their employees pay taxes, they are certainly legal. The Fair Trade Commission has issued a ruling that "multi-level marketing is not illegal unless it involves fraud," and direct selling business practices are clearly regulated in the Supervisory Regulations Governing Multi-level Sales (多層次傳銷管理辦法) under the Fair Trade Law (公平交易法).
The government and legal system are capable of managing and supervising direct sellers. There are similar regulations in the UK and the US. The law does not ban college students from having part-time jobs or starting businesses, although parental consent is required for those under the age of 18 to practice direct selling.
Some schools do ban direct selling, citing their own administrative regulations. However, there is no legal foundation for such penalties. Some of my male students once began skipping class and flunking their subjects. It turned out they had opened a snack bar downtown. Although business was brisk, their academic performance declined sharply.
However, a night school student from a financially disadvantaged household worked at an insurance firm while maintaining outstanding grades. Three years after graduation she was promoted to manager with a six-figure monthly paycheck.
The Singapore government actively encourages students to start their own businesses, and many have small enterprises selling accessories or gifts, making posters, cram schools, computer service centers and even dot-com startups.
The Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society held its summer summit in Taiwan this year. Among more than 60 representatives, many were experienced business founders and owned steadily growing companies.
In the US, more than 1,600 colleges and universities are offering business start-up courses. The latest statistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology show that its graduates have founded more than 4,000 firms, hiring more than 1 million people worldwide and registering total sales in excess of US$200 billion. Businesses founded by college students have become a driving force behind economic development.
The EU proposed a plan to cultivate students' entrepreneurial spirit in February last year, requiring all member states to add such courses to curriculums for primary, secondary and higher education to promote young people's exploration of new areas and strengthen competitiveness within the EU. The EU wants to create a social atmosphere encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit. In particular, it wants to encourage college students to dare to become tomorrow's entrepreneurs.
Direct selling by college students does not have to affect their academic performance, but making money should not disrupt their studies. Direct selling firms encouraging students to drop out of school when recruiting them violate basic business ethics.
Student participation in direct selling and other work experiences should not be seen as something negative. Students should be encouraged to leave the comfort of their school and -- while maintaining academic performance -- gain work experience. This makes for a more meaningful learning experience.
Johnny Shieh is an assistant professor in the Graduate Institute of Operation and Management at Kao Yuan University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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