Students Protest in Taipei Over University Tuition Hikes

The government of Taiwan is considering a change in how university fees are assessed, and yesterday, students gathered in Taipei to express their displeasure with the move. Dozens of students protested outside the building of the Ministry of Education, calling the new policy – which would allow universities to set their fees independently – a path towards the creation of “academic slave workers.”

The students’ main concern is that the new fee flexibility would result in increased tuition for graduate students while at the same time leading to cuts in research budgets.

In a conference meeting with university and college presidents from across the nation last month, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) said that school administrations would be free to decide whether to raise tuition fees for graduate programs, making many students worried that they may become an “ATM” for their schools.

A graduate student from Taipei National University of the Arts Chang Wen-hua says that graduate students are the country’s economic future. Once they leave school, they contribute to society with the skills they learn. Instead of making the universities turn to students to fund their programs, the government should increase higher education funding and make up the difference via capital-gains taxes levied on businesses.

Chang – who also serves as a representative of the Alliance Against Commoditization of Education – noted that raising graduate fees would likely hit students extra hard because they come at the time when many schools are cutting their research budgets as well.

“I get a research budget of about NT$3,000 [US$101] a month, but 10 years ago, the amount was NT$8,000,” said Wang Chun-fang (王淳芳), a graduate student at National Chengchi University.

“With little budget and higher tuition fees, we will be forced to work multiple part-time jobs. How are we supposed to focus on our studies and do our research?” she asked.

The student protests in Taipei were only the latest in the long line of recent student demonstrations over fees around the world. Plans to phase in tuition hikes in Quebec led to months-long protests among students although the media coverage of the protests was non-existent outside the border of the province.

Britain also experienced a wave of protests after the Coalition Tory-Liberal Democrat Government allowed universities to raise tuition up to three times the previous cap. In addition to the widespread student demonstrations, the change also resulted in the drop in the number of students pursuing higher education in the country.

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