Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

Universal Access to Post-Secondary Educarion

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on May 12, 2009

Everyone agrees that post-secondary education should be available and widespread and that this is necessary for a modern society. But just how widespread should it be? Should virtually every citizen have access to a post-secondary education? This was the topic of a post on the blog Higher Education Management addressing a recent statement from the Obama Administration that, in the words of the President himself, …by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

In Taiwan, the current rate of post-secondary attendance approaches 100%. The official Government Information Office (GIO 新聞局) website states the slightly out-dated figure from 2001 that 70.73% of senior high school graduates go on to attend higher education. In my presentations, I have been using the more recent, but still out-dated figure from the 2005 China Post that, “89.08 percent of graduates who filed admission applications after taking the entrance examination”. This 2007 article from the GIO-published Taiwan Review states that, “…tertiary enrollment rate reached 97 percent.”

This rapid increase in university attendance has not been embraced by the Taiwanese middle-class. Most educated in the previous generation would have studied in an elite system that used university education as a reward for government obedience. As such, the rate of admission to university was extremely low. But the point I want to express in this post is that Taiwan’s current rate is actually not at all out of line with that of other highly industrialized states.

A recent report from the British Columbia Ministry of Education indicates that virtually every high school graduate in BC will eventually attend a post-secondary institute of education. The Vancouver Sun summarizes the report’s results,

The study also found that of 44,978 B.C. graduates in 2005-06:

– 20.7 per cent registered later (by March 2008) or elsewhere, including 4.4 per cent at public post-secondary schools, 6.9 per cent at BC private post-secondary schools, 6.2 per cent at post-secondary institutions elsewhere in Canada, 1.4 per cent at post-secondary schools outside Canada and 1.3 per cent in adult basic education.

– 50.8 per cent registered at a B.C. public post-secondary institution for fall

– 6.9 per cent registered at B.C. public post-secondary institutions for fall 2007.

So of the 2006 graduating class, 78.4% eventually ended up at some sort of post-secondary institution.

The entire report , which is entitled Where Did They Go?, as well as other interesting information about education in BC, can be downloaded from this website.

While Taiwan’s situation may not be that much different from other similar economies, it is unclear exactly what all this means. The situation in Taiwan grew from economic necessity, but political factors have been a major part of why things took on their current appearance. Managing Taiwan’s growing number of unemployed university graduates has become a major political issue in the current economic downturn, but this has had almost no impact on the belief that university is good and that your child has to have a seat in a university.

As Dr. Keith Hampson pointed out in the Higher Education Management post that started this whole

…many people find the idea of expanding the number of college graduates very appealing. And its appeal is not based solely on ‘rational’ notions of productivity improvements and the like. Its appeal is also cultural. We like the idea of more people going to college because it taps into a collective sense of upward mobility.College for all” may be the knowledge economy’s “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” (Herbert Hoover, 1928).


5 Responses

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  1. johan said, on May 16, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    “But the point I want to express in this post is that Taiwan’s current rate is actually not at all out of line with that of other highly industrialized states”

    A strong statement. Have a look at this Scott:

  2. Scott Sommers said, on May 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Johan, thank you for the statistics. I’m not sure what these numbers mean with relationship to my claim. I think if you look at the report from BC, the comparable number would be 50.8% – that’s the number of students who graduated and enrolled the next fall after graduation. This is consistent with the number reported for Canada in your figures (60%). My point was that eventually, almost 80% of that graduating class went to a tertiary institute within 3 years of graduation. This is ever so slightly lower than the numbers reported in Taiwan. The high school dropout rate is under 10%, which is way down from 1977 when it was almost 1 in 3. A huge number of those who dropout are aboriginal students. More than 5% of BC residents are aboriginal and virtually none of them graduate (see p.6). To produce an 80% figure for the 95% of BC students who graduate, this would mean that 84% of non-aboriginal BC high school students attend a tertiary institute within 3 years of graduation. I can only imagine the lifetime total from that cohort will be much higher – probably more in-line with the 90%+ reported in Taiwan.

    I don’t think the numbers you produce contradict my statement.

    Interestingly, friends of mine who teach in Canada at institutes similar to the kind that you and I teach at complain to me in the same way that my colleagues here do. If I juxtaposed comments from my colleagues here and these friends in Canada, you could not tell where they were teaching.

  3. johan said, on May 17, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Thanks Scott.
    But since I’m not such a number wizard as you are, I still cannot see that your statement in question is valid. I guess then that it depends on how you define “other highly industrialized states”. What other countries besides the US (81.77%) and South Korea (92.80%) are you then referring to?

    Since I’m also interested in this topic, I found some additional stats (2006) on tertiary enrollment rates at:

    Taiwan=83.58%, Spain 67.36%, Canada 62.53%, Japan 57.31%, Spain 67.36%, United Kingdom 59.34%, France 56.16%, Switzerland 45.80% …

    Or shouldn’t we consider the EU and Japan for some reason?

    Or could it be that a new educational landscape is slowly taking shape in Taiwan? One in which the “old elite” are increasingly sending their children off for tertiary education overseas, leaving the “masses” unable to compete with those overseas graduates once they return to Taiwan?
    Or a situation like at my college grounds, where an “International Kindergarten” and “International Junior and Senior High School” have recently opened up, preparing (at a high financial cost) those “elite” kids a smooth overseas stay. The purpose: parents avoiding a faltering Taiwan university system + parents letting their money talk to avoid their kids having to compete with the Taiwan educated ones.

  4. Scott Sommers said, on May 17, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I don’t know if I’m a numbers whiz, but I don’t mean something different from the numbers you produce – I think. The numbers you have found almost certainly produce a snap shot of school attendance. This about as the probability that someone is in school now. But different states have different patterns of school attendance. In Canada, it is not at all unusual for students to take a year or two off and then attend university. In fact, preference was given to applicants who had been out of school for 5 or more years. Thus, the year after graduation, a very large number of those students who did not enter university after graduation were in university. The next year, there would be even more. My point is that if you look at the probability that of a student entering university in their lifetime, for the class of 2006 in BC, the probability is almost the same as in Taiwan. In fact, it is almost 100%.

    Does that make sense?

    The probability that someone enters university is much more stable. In Canada, it is not unusual for students to ‘take a year off’ and then go back to school. Your numbers miss these people because they are not in school now – although students who deferred last year would be. In fact, when I went to school, ‘returning students’ were giving preference. When I was at the very highly ranked Simon Fraser University, about 1/3 were returning students – including me. In Taiwan, it is very unusual for students to take time off since it means they failed the entrance exam and time only makes their academic skills rustier. At MCU, there are no more than 10 students who did not enter immediately after high school graduation. Thus, if you are not a student the year after graduation (and countered in your numbers), you will probably never be counted. In the numbers I produced for BC, the probability that you will be a returning student is 1 in 4.

  5. johan said, on May 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I believe I see the angle you look at it. Thanks!
    Now let’s look forward to some other opinions in this comments section – if the recent apathy virus on this island hasn’t spread to educators and blog readers, that is.

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