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May 29, 2017

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Taiwan's higher-education system needs to raise the bar

New Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) hinted on Aug. 5 at a possible increase to college tuition fees in response to what he called the insufficient resources allocated for higher education in recent years. To no one's surprise, opponents immediately dragged him over the coals for his frank remark, claiming that college tuition has already become a major burden for most students and their families, who are increasingly at risk of debt distress, a potential trigger in accelerating youth poverty in the years to come.

Although such a barrage of fierce criticism regarding the costs of higher education here is right, we have to remark that local commentators also failed to point out that increasing tuition fees will help public and private colleges to provide more financial aid to the disadvantaged students who couldn't afford a lowered tuition anyway and also create healthy and fair competition between public and private colleges. They purposely forgot to mention that many of the country's "for-profit" private schools (學店) and public schools are already short of students and run the risk of being shut down. They further seem to be unaware that each student has his or her own judgment, and young adults should carefully ponder their decision to go to university based on their interests and abilities, not according to what other people do and think.

The truth is that in Taiwan's education system everybody goes to college, not because you like it, not because you are good at it, not because you need it, but because a bachelor's degree is now the minimum qualification that could land recipients in a number of undifferentiated jobs. The problem with this conception of tertiary education is that most university degrees are in fact the least valuable in terms of career prospects and expected salary. According to the 2014 university placement results released this week, the university acceptance rate has achieved 95.73 percent, reaching record levels over the past five years. This is the main reason why Taiwanese students, and by extension their parents, should worry about the quality of higher-education programs, because it shows that everybody can make it into college here, not only at a very affordable price, but also at minimum costs because everybody eventually graduates, even the least motivated students.

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