About 12,000 out of 48,000 university lecturers might face unemployment in the next eight years amid declining birth rates in the nation, a report by the Ministry of Education said.
The ministry earlier this week released an estimate which showed that 60 universities could face closure by 2024, as well as a list of 151 departments and graduate programs that failed to enroll any students this school year.
As this year marks the end of the “Race to the Top Universities” program, which saw the government issue NT$50 billion (US$1.55 billion) in subsidies to a dozen select universities since 2011, a group of doctors hired for the program could be the first to lose their jobs, Taiwan Higher Education Union secretary-general Chen Cheng-liang (陳政亮) said.
Citing as examples the now-defunct Yung Ta Institute of Technology and Commerce and Kao Fong College of Digital Contents, he said that some former professors from the two schools had to start working as waiters after losing their jobs, which he said is not only a waste of talent, but also a “nightmare” for society.
“The government has a responsibility to introduce measures to deal with the oversupply of higher-education staff — for example by helping professors transfer to other schools, facilitating university mergers or providing severance packages,” he said.
There are three types of lecturers that are at risk of unemployment: those nearing retirement age; those aged between 45 and 55 who transitioned to the education sector from business sectors; and those who are aged between 35 and 45 but have less than 10 years of teaching experience, Chen said.
The last group of lecturers would be the most seriously affected, as they should be in the most productive years in their lives, but instead they have no choice but to cope with school closures amid low enrollment rates, he said.
“To make the situation worse, most of them have parents to take care of, children to feed and mortgages to pay. Having to start all over again in the middle of their careers would put a lot of pressure on them,” Chen said.
Low birth rates also affect elementary and junior-high schools, but since the government put countermeasures in place, few teachers have lost their jobs, he said.
The ministry has plans to lower the teacher-to-student ratio from 1-to-32 to 1-to-27, which would resolve the oversupply of instructors, he said.
However, it also means that schools would shoulder heavier financial burdens from personnel costs due to the shortage from tuition payments, so the ministry must issue more subsidies to tertiary institutions to make the policy work, he said.
Ministry official Nicole Lee (李彥儀) said that starting from Monday, tertiary institutions downsizing teaching staff can apply for loans to pay severance fees.
The ministry is cutting the total number of doctoral students that institutions are allowed to recruit by about 100 per year to respond to the shrinking demand for professors, while improving collaborative programs between industries and universities, thereby motivating professors to team up with doctoral students to start their own businesses, Lee said.
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