With Taiwan once again embroiled in its annual back-to-school debate on tuition increases, the Ministry of Education (MOE) approved tuition and fee increases at some 53 universities for the 2004 school year. Taiwan needs a sensible mechanism for calculating school costs to resolve this perennial controversy and bring about a "win-win-win" situation for government, schools, and students alike. Can such a mechanism be found?
On July 15th, announcing the results of a study into university tuition and fees for the 2004 school year, the MOE agreed to an average 4.51% increase in tuition costs for 53 of Taiwan's 158 post-secondary schools. For example, studies at National Taiwan University School of Medicine will now cost almost NT$40,000. Studies in private institutions, like Kaohsiung Medical University, Chung Shan Medical University, and Fu Jen University, will top a record-breaking NT$70,000-a NT$3,000-plus rise over the previous year.
In recent years, Taiwan's policies on university tuition have vacillated between control and liberalization, and activist groups have taken to the streets during summer vacations to protest yet another round of looming tuition increases.
On July 2nd, the Alliance to Oppose High Tuition and the New Generation Youth Group demonstrated at the MOE, performing satires as they protested high tuition costs and the commercialization of education, and called for a tax on employee bonuses issued by businesses, to be used specially for education.
Before leaving office, former Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun pledged that the MOE would work to stem tuition hikes for the 2004 school year. The Executive Yuan, however, denied the more than NT$2 billion in funds requested by the MOE, tying the hands of Huang's successor Tu Cheng-sheng who was obliged to announce the implementation of a "Flexible School Cost Program."
Prior to 1998, university costs in Taiwan were uniformly set by the MOE. Later, in a bid to increase their autonomy, schools were authorized to determine the size of tuition increases. Meanwhile, the MOE established a tuition and fee consultation taskforce to draw up the Flexible School Cost Program, which states that if, after deducting current and capital expenditures from its gross income, a school has more than 15% in cash surplus, then tuition increases for that school will not be approved. Due to the slumping economy, most schools did not increase tuition over the past three years.
National Taiwan University (NTU) student affairs director Wen Chen-yuan points out that NTU had originally planned to increase tuition by 13%, but in light of the public outcry, opted instead for 5%. He explains that even without an additional pay raise, automatic increases in pay due to staff and faculty promotions and pay grade adjustments will augment school expenditures by over NT$60 million. The 5% rise in tuition will bring in an additional NT$70 million-just enough to fill in this particular fiscal gap.
Post-secondary education is the best way to break down barriers between social groups and achieve social equity. Taiwan, however, is faced with a problem: her relatively inexpensive public schools have only enough slots to accept approximately 30% of her high school graduates, but most children of salaried and manual workers and of lower- and middle-income families go on to study at the more expensive private schools which tend to have fewer resources, and offer lower quality educations. The NT$100,000-plus a year required to put one child through university is a tremendous burden for working-class families. According to statistics, the number of students applying for student loans has increased to 350,000.
On the other hand, however, universities, like any other business, cannot be run without funds. Everything from hiring qualified instructors and procuring library equipment to constructing classrooms and dormitories, requires large sums of money. The costs of post-secondary education in Taiwan rose 167% over the past ten years, while the number of post-secondary schools mushroomed from 50 to over 150. Government education budgets have lagged far behind school growth and, not surprisingly, schools have experienced financial strain, making tuition and fee hikes unavoidable.
As it concerns government funds, school operations, and student finances, the issue of college tuition needs to be scrupulously examined. To resolve the annual debate on university tuition, Tang Yao, associate professor in National Cheng Kung University's Education Department, suggests education authorities take the initiative to submit a comprehensive white paper on tuition explaining all of the difficulties involved. They should also require in no uncertain terms that universities submit reports on proposed tuition increases and institute measures to ensure that "no student will ever be left behind because he/she cannot afford tuition." This would help dispel any reservations that the public might have towards schools because of increased tuition. The government should also employ a mechanism for calculating reasonable tuition costs, to thwart the few schools trying to cash in on tuition increases and shift the funds to schools more conscientious in their mission to educate.