The Selection of Students at Universities in Taiwan

Actually, this post is not about Taiwan university selection. It’s really about the standards of Western universities. In this case, it’s about elite American universities and what this tells us about foreign faculty in Taiwan universities. The blogs and comments of foreign university teachers in Taiwan are full of posts and comments about declining standards. Hardly a day goes by when the Taipei Times doesn’t have something to say about poor English in Taiwan or how the move to mass education has done something bad to education.

I don’t mean to say this is wrong. What I would like to point out though, is that the highly vaulted system we are all comparing Taiwan to is not quite up to the mythical standards we all remember from when we were students.

Check out this recent post on the blog It appears that as many as 30% of students in top American schools have NOT meet the minimum standards of that school and were instead admitted for other reasons. Primarily, these other reasons would be to meet requirements of affirmative action and to allow underperforming white students who are children of alumni, athletes, etc. Interestingly, comments from Tina, whom I presume is a professor at an elite American university, mirror feelings described in this post on Talking Taiwanese.

My position on this is that Taiwan in is the midst of a transformation that is necessary to produce the workforce needed for the future. The MOE is not doing a good job of managing this, but that’s not the point of almost every word I read on this matter. In fact, the actual policies supporting the transformation seem to be unknown in most of the writing on the topic. The problem that gets addressed is always that of declining standards, and my point is that standards, whatever that really means, will have to decline as a result of the move to a modern, democratic society powered by mass education. So if you support Taiwan and its push toward modern industrial development, then you should also support the push toward mass education and accept whatever it does to the standards of your students as a price you must pay to help Taiwan build as a nation.



It seems that there are a lot of issues here which need to be untangled:

1. Do colleges actually prepare people for the workforce? What exactly are the skills you are talking about?

2. Are colleges really necessary to provide these skills? The US has a large and effective community college program.

3. If less qualified students are entering universities, doesn’t that just result in Universities lowering their standards until they are delivering something not very different from a good high school degree?

4. Is “preparation for the workforce” all that education is about? What about having an education citizenry capable of participating in the public sphere?

5. If this is about workforce preparation, how do we create BAs in the appropriate fields? Or is just having BAs enough?

My list of questions goes on, but this will do for now. The point being that I feel talking about the needs of the market raises more question than it answers.

A full answer would long and complex. However, some form of response is required.

It seems you are confusing the idea of a person working with the idea of a nation’s industrial policy. the concept of ‘mass education’ is a concept that makes possible the central planning of an industrial policy. While it does effect the planning choices of individuals, conceptually, it
is a very different thing.

There are a wide range of skills generally not available through life experience. On the other hand, many students will learn them, even become interested in learning them, given the opportunity. Mass education is the process of making this learning opportunity available to a larger selection of citizens than would be the case under conditions of elite education. For example, no doubt some of my students would learn to speak English even if they did not attend my school. But almost certainly more of them learn English because they graduate from Ming Chuan University than would be possible otherwise. This is predictable because we make them learn it to graduate.

As I have said. preparing a workforce is not the same as preparing a student to find a job. “Preparing a workforce” is a policy statement. The educational direction that is chosen allows for an industrial policy to be set. The central government of the ROC, through their choice of a particular path of industrial development, need an educational policy to prepare workers.

It is this kind of policy and its concomitant educational policy that I’m talking about.

It’s a relief to find a blog entry of yours that actually criticizes deficiencies in an education system outside Taiwan (US higher education). I’ve been following your blog for some time and seemingly it is a litany of complaints amounting to an diatribe on Taiwanese education. I don’t disagree that there are problems with the Taiwanese education system, but your writing is glaring condescending to not just Taiwan, Taiwanese, but also visitors of your blog who comment. Without fail, you often start off your responses to your readers as “You seem to be confused…” or “You don’t quite get the point…”

I think intellectual discourses are essential for both scholarship and development of an education system. But I ask you to please relfect for once and think about the pompousity in your tone in every blog entry and every response to readers.

As for mass education, I’m not sure where you got the idea that it is linked to a nation’s “central planning of an industrial policy” (see response to Kerim). Mass education is strictly the education of a high proportion of a population, namely in higher education. Linking education to industrial policies is HUMAN CAPITAL THEORY. Of course mass education is often rationalized for the sake of increasing human capital, but these are two separate concepts. There are lots of people who view mass education purely for the sake of education and not related to employability or “preparing the workforce.” Also, to argue that “find a job” and “preparing the workforce” are disparate is like splitting hairs. The former is colloquial speech. The latter is policy talk.

As for the policy of mandatory English education at Ming Chuan, do you or anyone who teaches English there ever reflect on your own pedagogy or the meta reasons behind such a policy? Seemingly you sound quite proud that English education is mandatory at Ming Chuan. I often find it disturbing that foreigners who teach ESL in Asia (or elsewhere) seem to carry themselves with such a sense of self-righteousness as if they’re doing charity for the uneducated masses.

I highly recommend you read a book written by a scholar on language education who also happens to be a former ESL instructor in Asia:

Pennycook, A. (1998). English and the discourses of colonialism. London: Routledge.

“..pompousity in your tone in every blog entry and every response to readers”

That may be your personal interpretation of Scott’s “tone”, but not mine or local Taiwanese English teachers with whom I sometimes discuss Scott’s posts.

Could there be a hint of the same ‘pomposity’ in your blog (and comment)? In mine (or my comment)? And if so, don’t we all have the right to write in whatever “tone” we choose for our blogs? It’s our personal blog after all, isn’t it? If I would not enjoy what a blogger writes (or ‘how’ s/he writes), I either don’t read the blog or comment on it without getting racist or pompous myself.

I don’t know Scott personally, but after having read his blog weekly for nearly two years, it’s definitely not “a litany of complaints”.

This is an interesting thread!

Just last night, I was discussing this whole issue of blog “pomposity” with a friend and former blogger (of ABTM) who drew a much bigger audience than I ever have.

He suggested that the problem is that blogging both is and isn’t casual. Some people fire off comments on a blog with the same abandon on a blog as they do in a conversation in a bar. I myself admit to writing an occasional “drunken comment”. However, unlike a conversation at a pub, a conversation on a blog is permanently recorded. People link to old comments and posts, they stew about them and sometimes they take them seriously.

It’s a difficult problem to solve. On one hand, low barriers to entry and informality are what make blogging the wonderful for of free expression it is. And yet on the other, people do take their blogs seriously and want a certain amount of respect in their conversations.

In any case, I’ll pwn you all.

Dear Scott,

I agree with you on many points except on accepting the decline of the university standard as a price to pay for an industrial development. The esteem of a university distinguishes the institution itself from a community college because of its ethics on academic standard. If we accept the skewing of the standard as a growing pain, then what is the valid reason for Taiwanese students to receive a university education in Taiwan? Ming Chuan had a five-year and a three-year college programs when I was in Taiwan years ago. I would assume that the quality standard for Ming Chuan as a university now would be different than before as a college.

Taiwan has been going through industrial transformation ever since I was a kid, from the third world country, to developing world and to industrialized world…. When would the transformation end so we can raise the university standard instead of declining? Taiwan is hoping to move into the high-tech industrial development which would require even higher level of skills in research and development. I can tell from reading your other posts that you are concerned about the quality education in Taiwan. If we truly want Taiwan as a nation to compete globally, shouldn’t we maintain a consistently high standard now, not lower and not later, for our elite university education?

In Taiwan, athletes used to get exemption from the admission exam to entre universities. It is a well known fact that these people do not necessarily meet the academic standard, but it’s their other special talents or skills that got them in. On Orgtheory, based on the portion I read, the discussion was about students who did not meet the admission standard nor exhibiting talents of any kind but were accepted because of their family contributions (likely the rich and famous kinds) to the universities. These people have generated another cause for the decline of university standard, which is really different from the problem we are facing in Taiwan, isn’t it?


Athletes still get preferred admission, as do children of aboriginal men.

I don’t mean to be saying that modernization leads naturally to declining standards. The function of schools like MCU has been dramatically redefined in ROC education policy. Students at MCU are significantly different from the students who attended Ming Chuan Women’s College. I don’t think this is a bad thing, although teachers generally complain about it because it means letting in people that we would normally never have admitted. Given the organization of education in a school-based system, it is very hard to engineer mass expansion without experiening this thing we call declining standards. While I may be wrong in saying this, I am unaware of any school-based system where this has been successful.

I’m told all the time by Taiwanese that the education system is going down the drain. As a grad student here, I have a bit of perspective. I can’t really compare education in Taiwan now to what it used to be 20 or 30 years ago, but I am certain that it is inferior (at the university level) to Western institutes (though an education anywhere is also what you put into it / make of it).

In students not making minimal standards we should consider Taiwan’s declining population balanced with the explosion of post-secondary institutes. A lot of schools, just for the sake of keeping enrollment up and remaining in business, must recruit weaker students. The responsibility for bringing up standards will fall more on the shoulders of educators; somehow they have to inspire uninspired brats to want to learn.

They might want to point to the newly released unemployment rates. I just heard on the radio that 25% of this group is comprised of freshly-minted university graduates.

I understand the sentiment that’s expressed in this opinion, but my post is aimed at explaining my disagreement. Of course the education system isn’t as good as you had in Canada or the US. Taiwan just doesn’t have the same money to spend. the GNP per capita is about 1/3 and the tax system is weak. In addition, it is supported by a largely colonial bureaucratic apparatus.

Of course there are more unemployed university grads than ever. There are more university than ever. What’s the unemployment rate for same-aged adults who are only high school grads? What’s the difference in income?

Historically, university graduation has guaranteed a substantially higher standard of living. The liberalization of university education marks the transition to a market where merit is much more skill-based – perhaps much more like the job markets that you and I are used to in the West.

If you take a look at the journal I linked to in this post
you’ll see that liberalizing markets in Taiwan has always been a tough road. The problems that occurred when financial markets and the cable market were liberalized in the 1990’s are the same that you are seeing in education. But the point of my post was that any way you look at it, the kind of students I have are capable of much more than they ever were in the old system.


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