When the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan deteriorated in May, the government imposed a nationwide level 3 alert. Many businesses suspended operations, with the service industry, including retail and dining businesses, the hardest hit. Many college students work part-time at these businesses and, as a result, have lost their jobs and find themselves in a difficult situation.
When National Chengchi University’s College of Communication launched an emergency relief project last month, it received applications from more than 130 students in just two days. Some of the reasons listed in their applications are very difficult to read, as not only the students, but their parents, too, have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The college has about 1,400 students, so at least one-10th of its students have been affected by the outbreak.
There are close to 1 million students at public and private universities. From this, it can be estimated that about 100,000 students are having financial difficulties due to the outbreak. Although the government has eased some level 3 restrictions since Tuesday last week, crowd controls remain in place, and it is unlikely that retailers, restaurants and other service sectors would be able to employ as many staff as before. It is time for schools to look into their students’ long-term financial difficulties.
Universities are big employers. Apart from paying the faculty and assistants, a school pays millions or tens of millions of New Taiwan dollars for other services as they outsource a variety of duties to contractors, such as entrance guards, cleaners, gardeners and cafeteria staff.
As the technical threshold for such jobs is low, schools can open some of the vacancies to students, or compel contractors to reserve a percentage of the jobs for the school’s students. It can even build an incentive mechanism to encourage contractors to hire students.
Like many Taiwanese who have studied overseas, I worked part-time at a school cafeteria as a waiter and dishwasher. In addition to making a living, I saw how large kitchens in the US follow measures such as hygiene requirements, application of technology, division of labor and standard operating procedures — which were an eye-opener for me.
A friend of mine worked part-time at a prestigious university as a restroom janitor, and the school took a very scientific approach toward sanitation. Before taking the job, he had to take a one-week intensive course to learn about detergents and tools. There was also a standard procedure for cleaning everything in the restroom, and a cleaner must always follow the rules strictly.
On-campus jobs do not only teach students to respect physical labor, but also allow them to put theory into practice. Every labor service in school can become a practical real-life lesson, as students can make some money while acquiring a work skill. Above all, emergency relief or student loans are only temporary solutions.
Colleges should consider the possibility of building a system to create job opportunities for students, bringing an educational aspect to jobs on campus. If schools in Taiwan revitalize and diversify their existing resources, they would help students face challenges in the long run.
Wang Yae-wei is an associate professor at National Chengchi University’s College of Communication.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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