Employment issues pertaining to young people with higher education received widespread attention in Taiwan recently, after it was reported that a graduate of National Tsing Hua University was working in a slaughterhouse in Australia and that master's degree holders were competing for manual jobs at a local hypermarket.
The root of the problem can be traced to the thoughtless expansion of higher education.
In what marked a major change in Taiwan's education policy since the 1990s, the government has eased the restrictions for the establishment of universities and encouraged vocation-oriented schools to upgrade themselves to polytechnic colleges or technology universities. This has led to a rapid increase in the number of university students.
According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Education, 82.2 percent of Taiwan's population in the higher education age bracket was actually enrolled in higher institutions in 2009. The figure was 23.2 percentage points higher than in Japan and also higher than the average for OECD nations.
But is Taiwan's knowledge-based economy better developed than these countries? If not, how can we expect Taiwan's businesses to provide enough jobs for the obviously superfluous university graduates?
Reducing supply is a necessary strategy to tackle the problem. Parents should be encouraged to change their mindset about higher education and there should also be a mechanism to eliminate universities with poor quality teaching or unsatisfactory enrollment.
People in Taiwan have long considered scholarly pursuits superior to all other endeavors in life and they attach more importance to diplomas than to skills. The current problem provides an opportunity for people to get rid of such mistaken notions. The government, meanwhile, should respect the market mechanism and avoid policies that can mislead the people. (Editorial abstract -- Sept. 18, 2012)
(By Y.F. Low)