A dozen years ago, I pointed out on many occasions that Taiwan had adopted the US education system in a half-digested way. As a result, we have seen the unrestrained expansion of universities, ever-increasing enrollment of students, which would sooner or later have some disastrous results.
Soon the grave consequences grew evident. Vacancies in universities for candidates for master's and doctoral programmes sprang up with more graduates than available jobs and positions, and meagre salaries for employed graduates. Because of the low birthrate, the number of students seeking post-secondary education decreased dramatically. Some top students who did not buy local degrees chose to study abroad, aggravating the university enrollment situation. More than half the students studying at universities were not qualified, which was detrimental to the reputation of university education. Everyone had his/her strong and weak points. Young people who could have succeeded in other areas drifted into the narrow lane of university education. That was a great loss, not only for individuals, but also for society at large. Universities and secondary schools failed to run smoothly, which provoked a lot of complaints. Education investment at both the higher and lower ends suffered miserably.
The problem of a low birthrate is not unique to Taiwan. Cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, and countries like Japan and South Korea, face similar problems. The difference lies in the fact that Taiwan, overwhelmed by populist sentiment, is the least prepared, and has the most severe non-professional involvement, the bitterest after-the-fact complaints and the worst existing troubles.
Lop-sided education reform has had the same kind of negative effects that populist phenomena incurred. At present, it is becoming more evident that nearly thirty universities, polytechnic schools and vocational schools of various types face the problem of reducing staff numbers, merging, reducing salaries, a lack of quality control, and so forth.
Issues that involve students, teachers, campus and properties have to be dealt with. They are further complicated by public and private interests as well as relevant legal issues, which are hard to deal with and may provoke complaints and disputes. The vocational education which once enjoyed prominence with its unique features is in decline. At a time when academic degrees are devalued and human resources wasted due to misplacement, we deem it necessary to redefine the positions of junior colleges and junior vocational schools, and think of vocational education as part of the blue-print for the reform of secondary and tertiary education.
In fact, the mentality in dealing with the education problem, which goes counter to quality education, is more worrying that the failure of education reform.
The young people born in the 1990s and afterwards are a happy and indulged generation, ever ready to challenge authorities. However, one should be ready to challenge oneself before proceeding to challenge authorities. Real talent should be outstanding, able to withstand any challenge. So it is not strange that an educational system should be subject to perplexing challenges.
In Shanghai alone, there are more foreign students than in Taiwan. South Korea, Japan and Singapore have been enrolling a large number of excellent foreign students. In a similar fashion, Europe, the US, Canada and Russia have been enrolling an ever-increasing number of students from the mainland year after year. Only Taiwan is blindly committed to local chauvinism. As a result, not only do we see a limited number of international students, but also limited places for the enrollment of students from mainland China, with the aim to exclude outstanding students, and restriction on their employment in Taiwan. Subsequently Taiwan has become less attractive even to students from mainland China. Isn't it better to have more overseas ambassadors like Barry Lam (from Hong Kong) and Chung Laung-liu (from Macau) who are ever ready to promote Taiwan?
When we wish to pool talented people, we should remember that if you can make those nearby happy, talented geniuses will flock to join you. My work experience in the US tells me that when we try to recruit faculty or enroll outstanding students, we must pay them a visit on our own initiative. Several months ago, City University of Hong Kong succeeded in recruiting a senior researcher from Academia Sinica. On the surface, this looks like an outbound brain-drain for Taiwan. But Academia Sinica is a first-class research institution. While there is outbound brain-drain, we should broaden our mindset and try to attract back world-class talent.
This applies not only to outstanding scholars, but also to students. We shouldn't indulge ourselves into thinking that people are currying favour with us or feeling as if we are giving out alms. Such shallow feelings stem from a lack of understanding about the truth that talented people fill society with vigour and vitality. It is interesting to note that there are people who believe they are winning something when they lose talented people, just like A Q, the main character in "The True Story of A Q" by Lu Xun, one of the most famous writers in China, who is so ridiculously funny because he always interprets his defeats as moral victories.
"Outstanding talents under the sun flock to join us." This is the main reason for America's prosperity. If we are not so sure of ourselves and lose our competitive edge, outstanding personnel will shun us. If we are afraid that students from mainland China or overseas might take away our places at universities or even our jobs, we should enrich ourselves all the more, stay away from the narrow-minded populism, and go for the outside world.
The low birthrate is not so worrying, but it will be a real social crisis if we stand still and feel complacent with the status quo and one’s talent cannot be fully employed.
This article was first published on Global Views Leaders Forum of Global Views Monthly (November 22, 2013).
December 10, 2013
吸收人才，近悅遠來。我在美國工作時，招聘師資、招收傑出學生，一定主動聯繫拜訪。幾個月前，香港城市大學聘請一位中研院資深研究員。表面上，像是人才外流；然而，中研院是個一流科研單位，有人才可供流通，不以為意。既然如此，就該開放胸懷，想法子用實力把世界人才回請進來。教研人員如此，學生亦然，不要總認為人家有求於我，好像割塊肉似的有施捨於人的感覺；持這種淺薄心態，是因為不了解人才活絡社會的脈搏，不要沒了人才，吃了虧還阿 Q 式的自以為得了便宜。