An article about a graduate from National Tsing Hua University going to work in Australia as a “migrant Taiwanese laborer” or tailao (台勞) has gained a lot of attention recently. Perng Ming-hwei (彭明輝), a retired professor from National Tsing Hua University, recently spoke out for the younger generation and said that he believed that vast amounts of wealth are controlled by those born in the 1950s and 1960s and that today’s youth can only work as slaves. He also wrote about how the younger generation is often described as being weak and incapable of taking on responsibility for the predicament they find themselves in now.
The latest edition of Bloomberg Businessweek featured an article about the cost of higher education in the US. It said that after 30 years of development, the total amount of student loans given out in the US in 2010 had surpassed the total amount of credit card loans and, as of last year, it was even higher than the total amount of car loans.
One young person mentioned in the article said that each month, she has to pay back up to US$1,400 in student loans, which is more than she makes working in a non-governmental organization, and that she cannot see any future for herself.
Taiwan is the same as the US in that both have a serious problem with people from different generations receiving very different treatment. Those who benefit from the current labor retirement system in the US and Taiwan are either those who are already retired or those who are planning to retire.
Taiwan’s current national health insurance system and the one by which it will be replaced when it is eventually restructured benefits the older generation.
As for land development, the government has put economics before the environment and this is something for which future generations will have to pay the price.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to get votes, the government has done everything possible to set up all types of annual pensions and promises for social welfare for which taxpayers will ultimately have to pick up the tab.
When Taiwanese who were born in the 1950s and 1960s were looking for employment, the economy was just starting to take off. On the other hand, Taiwanese born in the 1970s and 1980s and even those born in the 1990s now face a number of extra challenges caused by globalization, an economic recession, as well as a broader, worldwide Chinese community. They also face much higher housing costs and more pressure to consume than previous generations. The aging population is a ticking time bomb, as in the future, the few will be supporting the many.
The accumulation of knowledge and education are where young people gain competitiveness. However, in order to get Taiwanese universities into the list of top 100 universities in the world and to show that those involved in academic administration are doing something, the nation’s higher-education system places emphasis on the publication of academic papers in all kinds of academic journals, while completely ignoring the need to develop young students’ skills and competitiveness.
A few Taiwanese universities do get heavy annual subsidies from the Ministry of Education and claim they are moving up in the annual rankings of universities worldwide; however, now we have some of these graduates going over to Australia to work as butchers. Are we supposed to believe that this was the original intention of the ministry’s “Five-Year, 50 billion” program that was supposed to improve universities and their international ranking?
In my case, I got into the law faculty of my choice with top marks. However, once I started practicing law, I found that the competition brought about by globalization, my poor foreign-language skills and a lack of practical experience meant that I had no way of even setting foot in court or a legal practice. I could not even compose a legal complaint or a legal attestation letter. I had to learn everything from my employers and through self-study.
I felt that the nation’s legal education system was a complete waste of a student’s life and the interests of everyone else involved. With such a low-quality education system, it is little wonder Taiwanese schools cannot charge higher tuition fees.
It is not like Taiwan does not offer employment opportunities at all, nor are Taiwanese limited to only finding work here in Taiwan. The problem is that in a globalized job market, specialization and the ability to study hard are a necessity and Taiwan’s higher education system fails to equip students with these.
Taiwan’s higher education is merely concerned with getting schools on the charts of worldwide rankings and does not show enough regard to the most important people involved in the system — the students.
The employment market for Taiwanese is in fact the entire globe and the competition they face is also global in nature. A higher-education system that fails to focus on students themselves as individuals is the root of the problem behind the inequalities between the different generations of Taiwanese that we are now seeing.
Those of us who were born in the 1970s and 1980s are in a hard position now. However, we also have a greater responsibility to reflect on the high-handed, tyrannical actions and waste shown by the older generation. We need to work hard to establish horizontal and vertical types of distributive justice so as to guarantee that current students and academics, as well as the next generation, will not have to go through the same misfortune. This is the only responsible thing that can be done.
As for those few of the older generation who control vast resources and have vested interests, I don’t see any point in putting our hope in them at all.
Carol Lin is an associate professor at National Chiao Tung University’s Graduate Institute of Technology Law and a former lawyer.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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