Can we break the 22K spell?
The quality of Taiwanese university graduates in recent years is generally lower than that of graduates from the past, which is a view shared by Taiwan society today.
With too many complaints and excuses, today's university graduates encounter many difficulties finding a job after graduation, and even if they are fortunate enough to secure one, very often a starting salary of about NT$22,000 (HK$5,678) per month is all they can expect.
Also, the enrolment at many graduate schools is declining, and no, or very few, graduates pursue doctoral studies, even at some renowned universities.
The above observation may not be entirely valid. On the contrary, in this period of talent scarcity, the number of stall-keepers with higher education credentials is increasing. Why?
In my opinion, the (wrong) impression can be explained by means of some statistics, and that situation can be traced to its real cause. Previously only 10 to 20% of high-school leavers could go to university while nowadays almost 100% can. So it is not strange to find that the level of competence among current university graduates is generally lower than in earlier generations when we compare the 10 to 20% with 100%. And to make things worse, due to the lack of quality control, almost every student can graduate from university or college. As a result, university or college graduates today naturally find it harder than graduates in the past to land suitable jobs if they equip themselves only with a diploma, together with choosiness and a sense of superiority. Even if they secure a job, the starting salary could be quite low because generally speaking most of them are not competent enough.
Therefore, on the one hand, there are so many university graduates available in Taiwan, while, on the other, society is suffering from a shortage of the necessary talent. The reason behind this situation is so simple that the average person can understand: egalitarianism, lowered value of the tertiary education degree, and an imbalance between demand and supply.
It is said that some Filipino university graduates have to go abroad to work as domestic helpers. This case can serve to explain the current situation in Taiwan.
When a college diploma can be obtained easily, its value will of course depreciate, and thus college graduates become a kind of low-end product. It won't make newsworthy reportage when a person's education credentials fail to qualify him or her for a certain job and that person has to earn a living as a stall-keeper. Also, negative perceptions about a person's competence or aptitude, combined with a general failure to meet societal needs, makes it harder for those really talented people without college diplomas to get recognition. Subsequently, job ads saying things like "NT$70,000/month—tourist bus driver needed" fail to attract applicants, which goes some distance to explaining why so many university graduates grumble at having no chance to pursue their dreams.
A couple of years ago, the number of graduate schools in Taiwan grew significantly within a very short period, with doctoral programmes set up for lecturers after the local vocational colleges where they used to teach were turned to regular tertiary institutions. When the "task" of such graduate schools was completed, it was not surprising to see few people applying for such doctoral programmes.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (15 May, 2014).
June 9, 2014