One college down, union leader warns of more closures to come

02/14/2014 10:26 PM
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Taipei, Feb. 14 (CNA) The closure of a 10-year-old college in Pingtung County because of low enrollment caused by Taiwan's dwindling birth rate is likely to set off a domino effect, a teacher's union chief warned Friday.

Kao Fong College of Digital Content in the southern county announced on its website Thursday that it will close in March after getting approval from the Ministry of Education.

It was the first university to close due to the dual burdens of low enrollment and heavy debt but will almost certainly not be the last because of the country's declining birth rate, said Wu Chung-tai, president of the National Federation of Teachers Unions (NFTU).

The number of high school graduates has been declining by thousands a year in recent years and will fall by about 50,000 when the problem starts to peak in 2016, Wu said.

The effect of the low birth rate on colleges will spread from southern Taiwan to the north, from private to public schools and from new to established schools, with Kao Fong College of Digital Content the first casualty, he warned.

According to government statistics, Taiwan's fertility rate has been below 2.1 children per woman, the level needed to maintain a population, since 1984, but it fell to consistently below 1.5 in 1998, undermining enrollment at schools at all levels since the mid-2000s.

So while the school's closure set off alarm bells across the country, it was not a surprise.

It owes its faculty members and creditors NT$300 million (US$9.90 million), prompting the Ministry of Education (MOE) to demand last month that the college shut down unless it could produce a viable plan to improve its financial situation.

Kao Fong College of Digital Content is not the only school on the brink of extinction.

It is one of seven schools currently listed by the MOE that will have to shut down or "transform" themselves because they have fewer than 300 students or enrollment rates below 60 percent in the past two years, or have received poor evaluations.

One of the schools on the list, for example, Tainan-based Taiwan Shoufu University, was targeted for closure but seems on the path of recovery after repositioning itself and overhauling its operations.

Another of the seven schools, the University of Kang Ning, is poised to merge with Kang-Ning Junior College of Medical Care and Management into a technical college, according to Wu.

Many other universities face similar predicaments, Wu said, and he urged the MOE to take proactive measures to help the schools rather than simply wait for them shut their doors.

The ministry should push through legislation setting up a formal supervisory system for private colleges and also invest more resources in schools whose strengths coincide with national strategies rather than giving evenly divided block grants to each school, he advised.

Wu's organization also urged the ministry to take over private schools in bad shape to prevent their condition from deteriorating.

(By Chen Chi-chung, Kuo Chu-chen and Evelyn Kao)

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