On Dec. 30, the Ministry of Education published the college and university enrollment rates for the 2020-2021 academic year, showing that a dozen schools had freshman enrollment rates below 60 percent, up from six the year before.
The number of high-school graduates registering for the General Scholastic Ability Test on Friday next week and Jan. 23 set a new low, showing that the effects of the nation’s low birthrate on higher education are indisputable. Under such circumstances, legislation for closing private senior-high schools, junior colleges and above bears no delay.
Late last year, the Cabinet resubmitted draft regulations for such legislation to the Legislative Yuan for a review. Judging from the draft title, the scope has been extended from colleges to senior-high schools, and the word “transformation” has been deleted in the resubmitted draft to focus on school closures, highlighting the urgency of the matter.
In summary, the arguments from all sides can be summarized as follows:
The first issue is the policymaking procedure. Some argue that the articles in the Cabinet’s version released late last year are different from the ministry’s version released early last year, but this is a misunderstanding.
The ministry’s version only represents its perspective, while the Cabinet’s version is based on a cross-ministerial review, and it is a near impossibility that not a single word would be changed during the policymaking process.
During his term as premier, Vice President William Lai (賴清德) sent the ministry’s initial draft back for reconsideration. In addition, the ministry’s version was repeatedly adjusted based on public hearings and public opinion.
The Cabinet version that was sent to the legislature is thus the official version, representing its final position. The key issue is whether the authorities are capable of clarifying the twists and turns of the policymaking process to the public.
The next issue is the benchmarks for school closure. In Japan, for example, these benchmarks were a continuous source of controversy and were repeatedly amended. At the moment, school closure is based on eight financial indicators, dividing schools into four types of financial situations: normal, potentially difficult, difficult and extremely difficult.
Looking at the Cabinet’s version, school closure would be based on financial status and teaching quality, and the benchmark in the previous draft stating that schools with fewer than 3,000 students or an enrollment rate of less than 60 percent would be closed was removed from the new draft.
This could be a result of the controversy over the benchmark, as some have questioned how the number was calculated, not to mention that there is room to maneuver in terms of student enrollment, as colleges are allowed to temporarily “deposit” part of their enrollment quota at the ministry to make student enrollment look good. More discussion is needed to decide what would be reasonable benchmarks.
The last issue is the ministry’s partiality for private schools. The greatest criticism directed at the draft by teachers’ unions is the government’s avoidance of appointing public directors to private schools or nationalizing their properties.
In comparison, Article 8 and 12 of the first draft stated that private schools must place their properties in a trust when requesting government assistance and that the government could appoint directors, but this is absent from the current draft.
According to the ministry, the new draft is a special rule under the Private School Act (私立學校法), and any issues not stipulated in the draft can be handled in accordance to it. This is why it says the new draft is a complementary measure that completes the framework for private school closures.
Passing legislation for the closure of private schools is necessary and urgent.
However, due to different expectations, the legislative process has stalled.
Since the Legislative Yuan is where diverse opinions converge, once the Cabinet proposes the draft to the legislature, hopefully all sides will make concrete suggestions through their legislators, so the draft can quickly pass all three readings and ensure reasonable distribution of Taiwan’s higher education resources and the protection of teachers’ and students’ rights.
Chen Tien-ting is an educational administrator.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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