What problems can you identify with Taiwan’s education system? If you are not or have not been a lecturer at a university in Taiwan, you probably will not consider lecturer’s low pay to be a significant contributing factor to the broken system.
In reality though, it is both a symptom and a cause of the slowly collapsing higher education system in the country. For over a decade now the pay that a part-time lecturer at a public or private university in Taiwan can earn has been lower than what a part-time teacher teaching at high school, elementary school or even kindergarten could get.
There are several reasons why pay for what should be a prestigious profession is so low, but this article in the Taipei Times only translates the Chinese story, without giving any insight or analysis into the broader issue.
The article touches on one issue – that of the decreasing birth rates and resulting decline in enrolments in all levels of education, but that is only one aspect that needs to be considered. What it significantly fails to mention is that Taiwan did not used to have so many ‘universities’, but once the higher education market was deregulated, many schools that were only community or technical colleges were suddenly eligible to be name ‘universities’, creating a glut of tertiary institutions.
This grave error led to many undeserving schools suddenly being promoted to a status they did not earn, and it also allowed for the opening of other schools purely for profit. Many of these community colleges masquerading as ‘universities’ indeed need to be closed down in order for Taiwan’s education market to begin to recover, but that is only part of the solution.
At the same time, as Professor Wu Tung-hsing rightly points out – although he mistakenly only singles out private institutions – there is a dire need for transparency in all universities’ accounting and finances. This is because as these schools have been run as for-profit businesses, the result is that administrators and business owners are often profiting handsomely, but most of the teaching staff are not, and thus students are not receiving quality education.
If these ‘universities’ offer such low salaries for lecturers, how could they possibly be expected to attract or retain any talent? The problem is not limited to private education only, since the ‘famous’ public universities act as a kind of mafia cartel, setting and keeping the level of salaries of lecturers nationwide disgracefully low, which private universities then follow.
These greedy administrators have prevented lecturers from getting reasonable pay or a meaningful pay rise for decades. This vicious cycle further contributes to the decline in higher education levels, as talented teachers look elsewhere for more rewarding, better-paid and more respected employment, while talented students increasingly travel abroad for a better-quality education.
If you want to improve the quality of education in Taiwan, you need to break the stranglehold that the top universities have on setting standards that predominantly benefit their own business models and reputations at the expense of educational reform, shutter the shady and money-grubbing schools, and start paying university teaching staff reasonable wages.