Shortage of Talent on Taiwan Serious
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 9, 2012
Summary: The National Science Council recently held a Science and Technology Development Advisory Conference. It invited officials and experts to discuss industry-university cooperation, national planning projects, and the talent shortage. Chu Ching-yi, Chairman of the National Science Council told reporters Taiwan now has a serious shortage of talent. If nothing is done, Taiwan's former advantage will be lost. International competition will result in our tragic demise. His comments were shocking. Industry, government, and academia each issued warnings. Everyone sees the problem. But no one sees any solutions.
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The National Science Council recently held a Science and Technology Development Advisory Conference. It invited officials and experts to discuss industry-university cooperation, national planning projects, and the talent shortage. Chu Ching-yi, Chairman of the National Science Council told reporters Taiwan now has a serious shortage of talent. If nothing is done, Taiwan's former advantage will be lost. International competition will result in our tragic demise. His comments were shocking. Industry, government, and academia each issued warnings. Everyone sees the problem. But no one sees any solutions.
The shortage of talent on Taiwan did not begin today. Two or three years ago Chu Ching-yi was chairman of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research. As an ordinary scholar he repeatedly issued warnings, including a number of concrete facts. For example, A Ph.D returning from the U.S. to work as an assistant researcher at the Academia Sinica, would be paid a monthly salary of 190,000 NT. The same individual working at Tsinghua University in Beijing, would receive an annual salary, moving expenses, and three years of housing subsidies. His or her average monthly salary would be 436,000 NT, two to three times the Academia Sinica salary. As one can imagine, given such differences in treatment, Beijing is clearly preferable to Taipei.
Three years later, the situation has not improved. Salaries for high-level talen on Taiwan lag far behind Hong Kong and Singapore, by as much as five times. Back then Chu Ching-yi estimated that if nothing was done, the talent shortage would reach crisis proportions within ten years. Even Chu did not realize the crisis would materialize so soon. Less than three years later, the situation has already deteriorated. High-level salaries are constrained by rigid laws. Mid and low-level salaries are constrained by economic hardship. When the pie cannot be made any larger, each piece of the pie will remain small. We lack the economic wherewithal to attract talent. In turn, the lack of talent in a knowledge-based economy will make economic growth impossible. In short, Taiwan may fall victim to more than a lack of talent. The lack of talent could lead to a vicious cycle of economic decline.
This is true for native talent. But how is it for foreign scientific and technological talent? Chu Ching-yi cites his own experience with foreign professors. Before the professor can receive a letter of appointment, he must undergo the same "foreign labor screening" as ordinary foreign workers. Screening for foreign professionals includes bewildering and humiliating screening for syphilis. They may be granted permanent residence, but their families and loved ones will not. Family members can be reunited only by obtaining a 30 day tourist visa. When it expires, family members must leave the country. Even driver's licenses are valid only for the duration of their residence. If their work permit has expired, income earned on Taiwan cannot be withdrawn overseas. Even dividends from unlisted shares require mountains of red tape. Personal information concerning the companies and the individuals must be submitted to the Ministry of Economic Affairs Investment Commission. Myriad restrictions make foreign professionals feel demeaned and subjected to unreasonable and unfair treatment. Why would they want to come to Taiwan?
Native talent has become harder to keep. Foreign talent has become even harder to attract. In recent years many people on Taiwan have evinced an intensely isolationist mentality. Mainland and foreign students have encountered the same obstacles, both in education and in employment. To ensure educational and employment opportunities for Taiwan students, students from the Mainland are not even allowed to marry someone from Taiwan. Allowing in foreign workers involves a variety of political considerations. On the surface such restrictions protect Taiwan. In fact they restrict the entry of high-level talent into Taiwan. They undermine national competitiveness. As a result, more talent leaves. In the global talent market, Taiwan has already lost its attraction. If talent cannot gather, how can industry upgrade? By contrast Singapore is encouraging professionals to move there in droves. The US is the world's most powerful nation. It has never changed its open invitation to professional talent. It spares no expense to train students. Is Taiwan really in any position to talk about global competitiveness?
People on Taiwan underwent years of hardship. They survived the "Come, come, come to National Taiwan University; Go, go, go to the United States" era. Eventually those who went to the United States returned home to create Taiwan's economic miracle. But once Taiwan took off, students had less incentive to study abroad. They stayed home and stood guard over a pool of stagnant water. As iD SoftCapital Group Chairman Stan Shih observed, "The new generation is talented. But we can no longer offer them a stage on which to perform." When asked how this came about, he said "under the influence of politic demagoguery, our society shrank the stage. We only looked inward. Industries lost their competitiveness. Young people no longer have a stage on which to perform."
Industry and academia see the problem. They have proposed solutions. The key is to free up the policies and the laws. The way must be cleared, all the way from the legislature to the executive. For example, the Legislative Yuan oversees public shares and public foundations. It fights fat cats. This enabled the Executive Yuan to invoke the "anti-fat cat articles" to attack research institutes willy nilly. Eventually they realized their error and proposed a "flexible salary program." They managed to retain research institute talent, barely. But the damage was already done.
Politics and economics on Taiwan is brims over with lip service to "the common man." Populist sentiment can easily lead to coercive egalitarianism. This is hardly conducive to the cultivation of cutting-edge talent. The political realm has reduced the stage for the economic realm and the social realm. As a result, far-sighted policies are no longer an option. Even assuming they could be implemented immediately, the government should give them careful consideration.