The Ministry of Education has announced a NT$150 million (US$5 million) plan to help cover the operational costs of community colleges that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as measures aimed at helping lessen the burden on graduates who have to repay student loans.
Since the outbreak of the disease, 55 of the nation’s 89 community colleges have had to suspend or postpone classes, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Even those that have remained open are under pressure from factors including the loss of students, requests for refunds and the need to enhance disease prevention efforts, it said.
Community colleges nationwide last year offered a total of 22,538 classes to 315,242 students, it added.
Last year, their total expenditure reached about NT$1.32 billion, or an average of about NT$1.23 million per school per month, the ministry said, adding that its grants and subsidies made up just 18.9 percent of the schools’ funding.
Income from tuition and other fees cover the majority of their operating costs, it said.
The ministry said that it early this month gathered representatives from community colleges and local governments to discuss relief measures.
Its plan to provide relief to community colleges — approved by the Executive Yuan — is comprised of two major measures: subsidies for operational costs and subsidies for lecturers’ pay, it said.
Community colleges that have from February to June suspended classes for at least one month or seen an at least 10 percent annual decrease in the number of students can apply for up to NT$2 million in subsidies to help cover expenses such as the salaries of full-time staff, rental fees for facilities and administrative costs, the ministry said.
Lecturers who from February to June have experienced an at least 50 percent loss in income in any one month due to changes in teaching plans caused by the pandemic can apply for up to NT$20,000 per month for a maximum of three months, the ministry said.
However, those with other full-time jobs or retired civil servants, public-school teachers and military personnel would be excluded, it said.
Whether the subsidies continue after June would depend on developments in the disease situation, it added.
The ministry said that it would also loosen the eligibility requirement for people applying for a deferment on principal and interest payments for their student loans.
From August, people can request to defer both payment types by providing proof that their average monthly income in the previous year was less than NT$40,000, it said, raising the maximum from the current NT$35,000.
The number of times they can defer principal and interest payments would also be increased from four to eight, with each deferment lasting one year, it added.
People with student loans would also have the option of requesting a principal-only deferment with no conditions, the ministry said.
From August, the maximum period for principal-only deferments is to be extended from four to eight years, it said.
Combining the two types of deferment would give those who qualify up to 16 years in which they would not have to make principal payments on their loans, it added.
An estimated 500,000 people would benefit from the latest student loan measures, the ministry said.
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