Campus overhaul as Taiwan loosens state strings

November 10, 2000

Taiwan's first free elections and the appointment of a new education minister in May have speeded up reform of the country's higher education system.

Even before the change of government, the country's higher education system was high on the agenda. Centralised control was giving way to a degree of autonomy that allowed universities to establish a self-governed fund that they could top up through donations and fundraising.

Universities were given the power to fix their own tuition fees, while the ministry of education ceased to provide 100 per cent of the budget for public universities. It limited support to 80 per cent of the budget, leaving institutions to raise the remaining 20 per cent.

The outgoing government also promised a widespread review of university law, a white paper on higher education policy and the introduction and development of a life-long education system. Mergers of a number of the smaller, regional universities were also scheduled.

Ovid Tzeng, the new minister, said: "The key words in government strategy can be summarised as autonomy, flexibility and independent development."

He added: "Universities will be given even greater independence by turning them into legal entities."

Taiwan now recognises degrees and diplomas from mainland China after a thaw in relations with Beijing. "We believe that academic exchange and collaboration can promote mutual understanding and friendship," Professor Tzeng said.

Taiwanese citizens were given leave to visit the mainland in 1987, which opened the door for academic exchanges. Collaboration is growing and last year, 7,696 academics from the mainland visited Taiwan. Academics from Taiwan are also visiting mainland China more often. Professor Tzeng accepts that the issue of academic freedom in the People's Republic overshadows these contacts.

"As a result of the pressure from western democratic countries and the increasingly easy access to information, we are witnessing a trend of diminishing control over academic affairs by the Chinese authorities. But the Chinese authorities still seek to control the thoughts of intellectuals," Professor Tzeng said.

"There are regulations controlling (those) who wish to come to Taiwan for academic purposes. People in mainland China are not allowed access to Taiwan government websites."

Taiwan's target of having 18 out of every 1,000 of the population in higher education by 2000 was easily achieved - 24 people per 1,000 of the population were studying in 1999-2000, with 60 per cent of them enrolling at the country's 1 degree-awarding universities and colleges.

A state university student pays 20-30 per cent of the cost of his or her education while the state pays 70-80 per cent: students at private universities typically pay 70-80 per cent of the cost of their education, with the private sector contributing 10 per cent and the state, 20 per cent.

Private universities make up 60 per cent of the country's educational institutions and they have the same proportion of students. They receive government funding for development and their students are entitled to loans.

Large numbers of Taiwanese students come to the UK for graduate and postgraduate studies and Professor Tzeng, who was a visiting professor at the universities of Yale and California, is confident that this will continue. "Although Australia and the United States compete with the UK for students from Taiwan, recent racially motivated incidents against some of our students in Australia and the increase in the cost of tuition fees, living expenses and health insurance and fears for personal safety in the US, have made these countries less attractive."

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