Lu Mu Lin (呂木琳)


Dr. Lu Mu Lin (呂 木琳) is the Political Deputy Minister of Education in the ROC. The other day at Ming Chuan University, we had the pleasure of having him address the opening faculty meeting. While Dr. Lu is a senior member of the Ministry of Education and a highly experienced educator, after listening to his address, I am more confused than ever about the goals of Taiwan education.

First, Dr. Lu holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Texas at Austin. He was appointed Vice-Minister following the resignation of Fan Sun-Lu. Much of his work as the Political Deputy Minister involves awards, announcements, and meetings. It is not clear to me what his personal political stand is on educational issues. He has spoken out against study in China, but one of his most public roles is as a spokesman for the recruitment of foreign students in Taiwan.

At our meeting, Dr. Lu talked for more than an hour. He discussed the expansion in number of Taiwan universities. It is widely perceived in Taiwan that are ‘too many’ universities and that attendance at university is now ‘too easy’. Dr. Lu pointed out that in comparison with other modern industrial states, the portion of eligible students attending university in Taiwan is not extraordinarily high. Another point he tried to address is expenditure on private universities. While public universities still receive much more money per student, this amount has actually been decreasing while the amount per student spent on private university students is increasing. Dr. Lu also expressed his admiration for the California state education system. He believes they are able to provide a high standard of education while still providing opportunity for students who are able to demonstrate ability later on in life.

So far, things are pretty straight forward, but when Dr. Lu starting talking about the goals of university education I became confused. To be fair, he never directly spoke on this point and I had to read between the lines to reach this conclusion. Nevertheless, Dr. Lu left me confused. While talking about growth in number of universities, he expressed his concern about “maintaining quality”. By this, I suppose he had to mean the traditional goal of academia in creating scholarship. But later on, he discussed at length about integrating universities with companies. His exact words (via translation) were that the MOE “encourages universities to open courses that meet the direct needs of companies.” So which is it –  scholarship or vocational training? Or is the new goal by which ‘educational quality’ is judged to be vocational relevance? Will that be the case even at the universities selected to lead Taiwan as world-class universities?

I was equally confused by his discussion of teaching excellence. At these start-of-the-year meetings, it is customary to talk about teaching excellence. Dr. Lu was no exception. But he also spent a great deal of time talking about Taiwan’s standings in international comparisons of universities. Since all of these comparisons are based on research publications, it is not clear to me what the Ministry wants university faculty doing.

The simple answer to all of his is that they want faculty at some universities teaching students to be workers in companies and that’s how their ‘excellence’ will be measured. At other universities, they want ‘excellence’ measured by how many publications you can grind out. The problem with this is that faculty evaluation and promotion have been standardized within the MOE and almost all of it is based on research publication. It also makes me wonder why the MOE wants students involved in vocational training at institutions that are allowed to call themselves ‘university’.

A final comment about Dr. Lu’s speech. Following his presentation, our school president, Dr. Lee Chuan, asked for questions. One question from a Taiwanese faculty member addressed the issue of the pathetic pension offered to private university faculty. Dr. Lu was honest in his response that even public university teacher pension plans are encountering financial problems. His answer did not leave me holding much hope for the future. Another excellent question came from my colleague Shawn Perry. Shawn’s question addressed the intensive curriculum that students in Taiwan are forced to endure and the fashion in which it affects student independence. For example, the way in which students in the same major study together and often have to take many more credits than university students at comparable universities in the West. The deputy minister’s answer was not very convincing. He told a story about studying at the University of Texas and how this molded his perceptions of student autonomy and then talked a lot about the responsibilities of classroom teachers. I guess his real answer was that the MOE has no plan to address these issues.

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