The policy of providing financial aid to Chinese students studying in Taiwan has recently prompted concern among the public that if more Chinese students come to Taiwan it would put a squeeze on our higher education resources. It should be pointed out that the way Taiwan’s higher education resources are allocated is already very unfair to households in the medium and lower income brackets.
According to figures published by the Ministry of Education, 73 percent of Taiwanese university students attend private universities, while only 26.9 percent attend public ones. Among students from medium and low-income backgrounds, only 19.57 percent of those who gain admittance to universities are admitted to public universities, meaning that the other 80.43 percent are forced to attend private institutions. Under Taiwan’s existing admissions system, it is generally easier for sons and daughters from better-off families to enter top public universities, while those from less privileged families mostly go to private ones.
In other words, while in theory everyone has the chance to go to university, the truth is it’s easy for rich people’s children to get into public universities, where fees are relatively low, while most students from middle and working-class families have to go to private universities, which charge higher fees. The quality of education offered by private universities is also somewhat uneven, and this makes it harder for private university graduates to find employment. This situation runs contrary to the principles of fairness and justice.
The basic reason for this is the approximately seven-to-three ratio of private to public universities in Taiwan. This stands in contrast to most other countries, where the majority of universities are public.
According to research carried out by Tai Hsiou-hsia (戴曉霞) of the Institute of Education at National Chiao Tung University, in countries whose education systems are mostly public, such as northern and western European countries and New Zealand, more than 90 percent of students in higher education attend public universities. Even in countries whose education systems are more market-oriented, students attending public institutions are usually in the majority — 98 percent in Australia and 68 percent in the US. In Taiwan, however, it is less than 30 percent. As a result, many of these students at private universities have to bear a heavy burden of loans to cover their fees. This, combined with the overall decrease in salaries for young people over the past couple of years, is making the poor even poorer.
The way higher education institutions are financed makes matters even worse. Last year, each student attending public university received NT$260,000 in educational financing — even more for some institutions, with NT$400,000 for National Taiwan University and NT$460,000 for National Yang-Ming University. These figures show that the nation’s educational resources are not being used to look after the majority of students from middle and low-income backgrounds, but instead are concentrated on socially and economically advantaged students, making the unfairness twofold.
Unfortunately, the government does not seem to care about the hardship suffered by the majority of post-secondary students. Instead, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) claims that opening the door to more students from China will ensure that Taiwan’s surplus educational resources will be fully used.
The government’s higher education policy is heading the wrong way. If it doesn’t change its tune, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen and the class divide in Taiwanese society will become further pronounced.
Cheng Li-chiun is chief executive of Taiwan Thinktank.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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