1992 / 10月
Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of Tsai Chih-pen /tr. by Christopher Hughes
In the heat of the summer 100,000 students go all out to get into university; four years later, the same group of students are faced with the worry of how to continue their studies or find employment.
Following the economic prosperity that has come to Taiwanese society, enthusiasm for overseas study has not diminished, only now those who return holding doctorates or masters' degrees are "filling the streets" so that in recent years there has appeared unprecedented activity in the graduate employment market. For job hunters this is not necessarily good news with the distance from mortarboard to making the daily bread being far from short.
According to statistics from the National Youth Commission of the Executive Yuan, 2,863 students returned from overseas study in 1990, and the number increased to 3,264 last years. The Commission predicts that the number coming back to seek work will this year break through the 4,000 mark.
Overseas students beating a path back home: The fashion for large numbers of students to go West to seek their fortune has always been strongly colored by material gain: such as immigrants, and those seeking a good job. Now the economic scene in the United States and Europe is not so good, however, with high unemployment that shows no sign of coming down. In addition, the greatest number of foreign students in the United States now come from mainland China and their willingness to work for low wages has thrown the job market into confusion. Such a situation, along with the bonus of Taiwan's economic growth and excellent conditions for work opportunities, has led to an unprecedented flowing back of personnel over the last two years. The only problem is that, because so many students go to study abroad, those who have studied in the United States can no longer get positions just by the grace of their being rare commodities.
A certain Miss Hung, who in May last year got a master's degree in marketing communications from Florida State University, came back to Taiwan in the summer holiday to try to find work. Searching for three months she just came up against a brick wall. With downcast heart, all she could do was go back to the United States to study for a qualification in computer studies that she thought would help get her into the Hsinchu Science Park.
Then there is Mr. Chen. He has not yet finished his doctoral thesis but found time in the summer holiday this year to come back to test the water. He specially went to call on his former school teacher. The teacher exhorted him to not only show up well in his studies but also to have a very "usable" appearance. That is to say, stressing that he can teach both specialist subjects and common ones such as English and constitution studies--"both specialist and broad."
A crowded job market: The tide of returnees has meant that when the science and engineering departments of the national universities seek to take on teachers, more than a hundred holders of United States doctorates apply for one or two vacancies. The mechanical engineering graduate school of National Chung Cheng University wanted to take on four teachers and received letters from more than 300 applicants holding doctorates, two-thirds of whom had returned from overseas, with a number already having had ten stars of foreign work experience; National Tsing Hua University's department of electrical engineering needed two professors and received a stream of more than 200 applications within a year. "The increase in returnees from abroad is not just a trend, it is a fact," says head of the department and director of the school, Chen Yung-chang.
Private enterprises have the same feelings. One magazine manager says that when he was recently looking for personnel, not only did a number of graduates in mass communications apply, but also someone who was a graduate in electrical engineering from the University of California.
Looking at it from the point of view of the requirements of the job market, the National Youth Commission survey from the end of last year to the end of July this year found that there were 4,688 job opportunities in various organizations (higher-education institutions, research units, government organizations), for people holding overseas master's degrees and doctorates, among which the needs for graduates of engineering sciences (2,037) and business sciences ( 1,490) were highest, making up three-quarters of the total job market. The number of graduates in these departments returning from overseas study was also the highest, with engineering sciences accounting for 859 and commercial sciences 1,298. So it looks as though the job market for overseas students is good. But the situation is actually not that simple.
For students who have come back from foreign study, with a stream of new banks opening, there is a need for both old and new banks to bring in fresh blood, all having staff shortfalls. The National Youth Commission this year recommended to them 300 students who had studied commercial sciences overseas, but only 3l of them proved suitable. Apart from this, thanks to the gift of the Six-Year National Development Plan, flourishing construction companies have also received the attention of students who have studied overseas. Between 1988 and 1989 they very rarely had responses to their advertising campaigns, but for these past two years they have basically not advertised at all and still had more than 600 people posting them resumes in the hope of getting a job. One-tenth of these people were students who have studied overseas, so "the range for selection is very big."
The situation at Taipei's Mass Rapid Transit System has been similar. The personnel office says that in the last fiscal year they received 727 resumes through the post, among which half were students who had studied overseas and been recommended by the National Youth Commission.
The longer you study the harder to get work? Two recent statistics compare the difficulty of finding work for graduates from higher education compared to less qualified people.
According to the National Youth Commission's survey into job opportunities for those who have studied at technical college level and above, last year saw the lowest demand for three years. That is to say, last year there was an average of 3.36 opportunities for every technical college graduate seeking work, while for university graduates there were 2.3 vacancies for each one. The opportunities for those graduating from graduate school were smallest, at only 1.2 per student.
In addition to this, in April the Council of Labor Affairs of the Executive Yuan commissioned National Chengchi University's economics graduate school to do a report on "Changes in the Structure of Unemployment in the Taiwan Area and its Implications for Policy." This survey discovered that although Taiwan's unemployment rate is lower than that of the United States, the length of periods of unemployment is longer. Moreover, there was also the phenomenon that, from 1979 to 1990, the higher one's education the longer the average period of unemployment. Unemployment for those of university education and above was 21.3 weeks, which is 45 percent longer than the length for those who were self-trained.
One of the conductors of this survey, Associate Professor Huang Jen-te of National Chengchi University's Graduate School of Economics speaks about this from the aspect of the requirements of the structure of manufacturing industry, which provides less opportunities for those with a higher education. This is also because those with a higher education are more selective about wages, work environment and status, with the situation of "sights high and hands low" being very serious. Other-wise it is reasonable to say that the personal connections, academic knowledge, experience, and skill in finding work all augur better than they do for those with a lower standard of education, so those with a higher education should not need to look that long for suitable work.
One deputy director, talking in private, revealed with a rather pained smile that his son got an M.B.A. in the United States and had found three months work in America and also previously found three months work in Taiwan. This meant he always thought his opportunities should be better and was not willing to "get on his bike," and is sitting at home and "depending on me to pass his days."
An overseas qualification can no longer guarantee a bigger slice of the cake. However, seeing as the numbers going abroad to study this year have not decreased, it seems that there is no way to put a brake on the fever for overseas study. Why is this?
The psychology of qualifications: "Academic qualifications can satisfy the wish to bring glory to the family which is held by Chinese parents," analyzes psychologist Wu Ching-chi. The attitude of Chinese parents towards to education of their children is that so long as they are willing to study, belts will be tightened and more money spent and all will be worthwhile. To want to establish yourself outside the social followship system is certainly not easy.
In Taiwanese society, after finding a good job, for those wanting to go "one floor higher" qualifications still really make the difference. Wu Ching-chi says with a smile that our ministries and commissions must have the highest ratio of Ph.D.s in the world. Look at our lawmakers and the candidates for the National Assembly elections, all of them have Ph.D.s. "A doctorate is not just a sign, it is also a tool," he says.
Again, in Taiwanese society proficiency in English is a symbol of one's internationalization and wide ambition. Psychologically, going abroad to study is the best way to study English and strengthen one's English ability in a professional field, and thus also strengthen one's self-confidence.
Chang Yu-long, who went to the United States two years ago to study for a doctorate in the psychology of industrial and commercial organizations, speaks from personal experience. In those years he worked in the personnel department of a foreign computer company where his colleagues mostly had foreign qualifications. Although their ability was about the same as his, because his English was not good he always lacked confidence. Those who had studied abroad dared to express themselves more. If they ever work again in a foreign company they will be in their element.
The complex emotions of overseas students: Apart from qualifications, overseas study has other "supplementary values." Many female students who go overseas do so with the ulterior motive of finding their other half. Miss Li is a university graduate who worked for six years then decided to give up her NT$50,000 monthly salary to go abroad early this year. She had the feeling of getting no results searching in Taiwan, while abroad it is different. There is a lot of pressure from life and homework, requiring more emotional support, so the opportunities are somewhat greater and you cannot avoid having some feeling of longing.
When Wu Ching-chi advises female students who go abroad to study he asks them if they want to get married. When they select a university he recommends them to go to a school with strong science and engineering departments and a high number of male students. "Marriage can be managed. If you look on it as an important affair, then there is no need to be embarrassed about wanting to get married," says Wu Ching-chi.
Of course, apart from such utilitarian considerations, in the wake of economic prosperity there are also those people who want to find liberation in a completely strange place, and obtain true freedom for themselves.
Lu Hsiu-li is an advisor to an overseas student agency and her analysis is that with life being wealthier, no matter whether it is spending your parents' money or your own savings, studying abroad is not as difficult as it used to be. After a life of not much variety one feels that things have stagnated and there is a need for a change. Another aspect is making a break with the past; getting a feeling of achievement in a strange environment is a way of reaffirming one's self again.
In the past, foreign study was tough. Half the time was spent in the library reading the whole day, the other half was empty with no social life. Apart from studying, all you could do was go and work in the canteen. "If in the past it was a matter of putting up with it, now it is a matter of enjoying it," says Lu Hsiu-li.
Qualifications are not the end: In fact, no matter whether or not there is treasure to be found abroad, the overwhelming majority of overseas students confirm the value of studying overseas. For broadening one's personality and horizons it should be of great benefit.
Associate professor Chung Wei-wen of National Chengchi University's Graduate School of Journalism agrees with this judgement. Yet he still wants to wake up potential overseas students to the fact that knowledge is not a passive thing. When you go abroad, you can see the environment in all its pluralism and complexity, but if you do not have the ability to make acute observations and just hold on to your fixed frame of thinking, then it is like returning empty handed from a mountain of treasures. "Being in another environment is not the only factor--the subject is one's self," he says. In his view, education should not be "now buying, now selling," and getting qualifications is not the be all and end all and is certainly not a sign of having made a real contribution to society. The after effect of just looking at one's immediate achievements is to overlook the "holistic nature of knowledge," and forget that when you finish reading your books, you still need to study and grow up.
Taiwanese students study for ten or twenty years, yet few among them will allow themselves to become the "subject." With the pass rate of the universities joint entrance examination getting ever higher, and in an age when the number of university graduates is rapidly increasing, if you want to go abroad for further study to make yourself even more outstanding, you had better not forget that M.A.s and Ph.D.s are already filling the streets.
Wave after wave of Taiwanese students studying overseas are packing their bags to come back and carve themselves out a future.
Those with the status symbol of having studied overseas have no guarantee of getting a bigger slice of the cake when it comes to looking for work.
How does one come to a decision when weighing up whether to stay abroad and develop or go back home and try to get a job?