Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

Higher Education in Taiwan: The Crisis of Rapid Expansion

April 11, 2010 19 Comments

By Dung-sheng Chen, National Taiwan University and Mau-kuei Chang, Academia Sinica

Serious investment in education is thought to be important for development. At the same time, education is expected to increase opportunities for the underprivileged to move up economic and political ladders, and to increase the overall competencies of the prospective workforce of the country. However, education investments, whether they come from public or private domains, function in a competitive world, in which the calculations of costs-and-benefits dominate the allocation of resources. This goes not only for investors, university administrators but also for degree-seeking students. Therefore, a crisis could emerge if education organizations fail collectively, not because of underinvestment, but because of inefficiency associated with unexpected outcomes due to their rapid expansion. For instance, a crisis in higher education can occur when the number of universities increases while the pool of prospective students is shrinking. In the following, we will discuss the urgent issues resulting from the overexpansion of higher education in Taiwan during the past two decades, its impacts on social equality, and the associated pressures for auditing and evaluating the academic performance of universities.

In the twenty years from 1986 to 2006, the number of Taiwanese universities and colleges has gone up from 105 to 163, or a 55% increase. In 2006, Taiwan had a total student body of 1,313,993 undergraduates. And there were 163,585 in masters programs, and 29,838 in doctoral programs. These numbers represent a 197% increase of the undergraduates, a 136% increase in masters students, and a 125% increase of doctoral students, suggesting a very rapid expansion of higher education, which can be attributed to educational reform, occurring in Taiwan’s post-authoritarian era, especially since the 1990’s.

It is fair to say that competition among universities could help to improve the overall quality of education by providing prospective high school graduates with more choices. Expansion could also improve opportunities of younger generations who otherwise would have had little opportunities to gain a college degree just because of underinvestment in higher education. While all the above may sound good, it remains debatable whether this expansion and the increasing “choices” automatically help to improve students’ life chances.

We can begin to look closely at the expansion of different sectors of the university system. Data indicate that private universities and colleges have grown much faster than public ones, in both enrollment numbers and number of schools. During the period from 1986 to 2006, undergraduate enrollment in public universities and colleges increased 2.67 times, while it increased 5.17 times in private sectors. This discrepancy in expansion is also shown in the composition of the entire undergraduate body. In this same period the proportion of undergraduates enrolled in private institutions, jumped from 62.5% to 73.7%.

However, it becomes alarming when we consider how social inequality is reproduced through higher education. First, established public universities enjoy competitive advantages which they have accumulated through many years. Similar to the European higher education model, public universities and colleges receive generous governmental support while restricting the marketization of higher education. In the early days, before liberalization, public universities could recruit qualified faculty members more easily, establish better research and teaching facilities, and offer better training to students. They could even afford to do so while charging low student fees in comparison to private universities because of government subsidies. With the help of a unified national college entrance examination, public universities always get the “better” students. Ordinarily, students got to “choose” their university, based on the result of a common examination. Today, though college entrance system has been modified, about eighty percent of freshmen still enter colleges through the national examination. This makes it very difficult for private universities, especially the newly established ones, to “catch up” since they receive little government subsidies and charge higher fees, and at the same time they cannot offer a better quality education. Expansion and competition thus have a bigger negative effect on private institutions than on public ones, on newer institutions rather than older ones, on southern institutions rather than northern ones.

Consequently, public institutions can still attract the better high school graduates, who come from the upper-middle or middle class families. As for students from lower-middle or lower classes, who tend to be less “competitive” in the system, they continue to have fewer options and thus find themselves in the less preferred private institutions. They tend to pay higher fees and receive possibly poorer quality education, and, in the end, a diploma that is likely to be less respected. The unintended result is a continuing and perhaps even deepening gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged, thereby offsetting increases in social mobility, which was the intended outcome of education expansion.

Lagging behind public universities is not the only problem for private universities. The second problem they confront is the shrinking pool of prospective students. The problem has its roots in the sharply declining fertility rate in Taiwan (possibly the lowest in the whole world in 2009). For instance, the total numbers of births was 309,230 in 1986, but by 2007 the figure was down to 204,414, or a 33.9% decrease,. and there is no sign of the trend reversing in the near future. Therefore, some higher education institutions, especially private ones, face a serious challenge in recruiting sufficient numbers of students just to survive. Moreover, this problem cannot be solved by lowering tuition fees or by struggling to raise the quality of education. Among all divisions of the academic world, social sciences and humanities, perhaps with the exception of management and economics, are the most likely to take the hardest hit, regardless of whether they belong to private or public universities. When all things are considered, sociology and related departments in some private universities are at risk of being the first tier for restructuring or closure.

Lastly, we come to the issue of auditing — the evaluation of departments and of faculty performance. Competition is not limited to domestic comparisons in today’s world. As in many places, perhaps more so in Asia, the quality of institutions and faculty performance is evaluated by a series of universal quantitative academic indicators, such as the citation impact index, the number of papers published in top journals, etc. This is especially so for some top public universities in Taiwan. They are guided by an education policy that seeks excellence on a global scale and, for instance, sets its goals on being among the “top 100 universities” in the world. However, this sort of evaluation system automatically privileges English publications, and gives more credit to publications written in English than in local languages. They ignore the needs of the local and marginalize indigenous knowledge. Historical and social contexts are overlooked as academics pursue a global audience, which easily lead to all sorts of biases in scholarship.

In conclusion, we can say it is very important for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to be sensitive to local issues, while situating them in the larger picture of world context and world history. It is important to initiate locally significant research topics, as well as addressing research findings to local audiences. If they were to publish their research in foreign languages exclusively and to cater to the interests of international audiences only (for sake of publication), then they would become totally irrelevant to Taiwanese publics and ignore many significant issues in Taiwan. The result would be a pathological distortion of the rich heritage of our sociological discipline.

19 Comments → “Higher Education in Taiwan: The Crisis of Rapid Expansion”

  1. Rob Sean Wilson 8 years ago   Reply

    I have heard Kuan Hsing Chen make much the same point, and have heard this English-citation policy (actually more like the UK mode than the US one as I see it) echoed and blasted by academics in South Korea and Singapore, to little avail now it the case even more so in Taiwan the most open site of them all at university level it seems to me, PRC just retrograde in this university mode (iron rice bowl rules!) as in so many open forms like internet or facebook or even allowing a Bob Dylan concert into its state policed domains: As in many places, perhaps more so in Asia, the quality of institutions and faculty performance is evaluated by a series of universal quantitative academic indicators, such as the citation impact index, the number of papers published in top journals, etc. This is especially so for some top public universities in Taiwan. They are guided by an education policy that seeks excellence on a global scale and, for instance, sets its goals on being among the “top 100 universities” in the world. However, this sort of evaluation system automatically privileges English publications, and gives more credit to publications written in English than in local languages. They ignore the needs of the local and marginalize indigenous knowledge. Historical and social contexts are overlooked as academics pursue a global audience, which easily lead to all sorts of biases in scholarship.”

  2. sdorttuii plmnr 3 years ago   Reply

    Very wonderful information can be found on weblog.

  3. I am delighted that I found this web site, just the right info that I was looking for! .

  4. Candida Falkenthal 2 years ago   Reply

    Howdy! I am also a tutor. I appreciate you for producing such an fantastic comment. Being from Alpine , has provided me with a great clarity on what is needed to consider a trip to Sumiton. My Wife And I will continue to come and check your website to better to learn where to go after we arrive to Atlanta ga. Kindly keep on posting and present us your opinions on University of Oklahoma (OK). Plan to see you later on at the upcoming job fair at Sprint. Cheers.

  5. Easter 2 years ago   Reply

    wow a greater

  6. Easter Sunday 2 years ago   Reply

    none of them

  7. Easter 2017 2 years ago   Reply

    the friends

  8. where is it ?

  9. encontrar pareja 2 years ago   Reply

    I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Superb blog and amazing design.

  10. Daylight Savings 2 years ago   Reply

    Special Thanks for this from your friends

  11. Thanksgiving 2 years ago   Reply

    Thanks for this one always

  12. 123movies 1 year ago   Reply

    thank you for this great info

  13. 123movies 1 year ago   Reply

    so much good info here thanks

  14. Index of Movies 1 year ago   Reply

    just what i was looking for once again and thanks

  15. film streaming 1 year ago   Reply

    just what i was looking for once again and thanks

  16. haine copii 1 year ago   Reply

    I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Terrific blog and amazing design.

  17. 76Ashleigh 1 year ago   Reply

    Hello admin, i must say you have hi quality content here.

    Your page should go viral. You need initial traffic boost only.
    How to get it? Search for; Mertiso’s tips go viral

  18. robux generator 7 months ago   Reply

    Playing online games is good for us because If we play with our friends so we can play with friends and do entertainment.

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. film streaming al cinema - 1 year ago

    …A Friend recommended your blog…

    [...]I am no longer certain the place you’re getting your information, but great topic.[...]…

Leave a Reply