So after 1.5 years back in Taiwan, it is time to sum up some observations.
DISCLAIMER – this turned out to be quite a negative post because 1. it’s always easier to complain, 2. the post got so long I did not have time yet to write the good things, I swear I’ll deliver that another time 🙂
1. The educational reforms have not managed to relieve pressure from the kids.
More than ever are bu xi ban popping up and being ran over by parents who want their kids to be more talented than other kids. OK that was a silly sentence but most parents still want their kids to score the best in the national senior high and university entry exams, which leads to an education which gears people towards learning by hard as much as possible while creativity, critical thinking and healthy debate and discussions are still not present in the classrooms.
2. The salaries are ridiculously low – welcome to the new brain drain
In the 70s and 80s Taiwan had big and long wave of brain drain, in which around 20 percentage coleges graduates went on to study abroad (mostly the US), and few of them returned. By the end of the 70s only 8 percent of the Taiwanese students going to the US decided to come back after their studies. In the late 80s and 90s this trend was partially reversed, quite many skilled labor returned. This helped the economic growth especially because these people did not only had a good education, but also brought back their business and work experience.
Now today it looks similar, but there are two factors which make it very different. One is the reason for leaving. Two is the people who are leaving.
The reason for leaving
The reason back in the 70s was globalization. Like every fast growing developing country, Taiwan started to enjoy the benefits of better educated people, which was one of the strongest drivers behind the progress Taiwan made economically and politically. But better educated people become available to the global labor market, and it is only natural for some to opt to go abroad (and enjoy better education, jobs, environment. It is worth noting that the brain drain in the 70s did not halt the growth in Taiwan). But the reason in the current brain drain is quite different. It is the money. Of course the money was better abroad back in the 70s, but the main reason was overall “a better life” or more opportunities and possibilities (mainly in the US). After all, Taiwan was just in the progress of its economical development and had not reached the quality of life people enjoy today.
I pin down money as the main reason today because most people I talk to who are leaving bring this up as their reason to leave. And let’s not talk about the 22’000 TWD, that enjoyed enough popularity on the news already, but let’s look at some other numbers: Taiwan has a minimum hourly wage of 109 TWD (appr. 3.6 USD), 85% of the 25 to 44 year olds earn less than 50’000 TWD monthly (appr. 1667 USD), and 93% of the people with a vocational education earn less than that amount (regardless the age).
(Source: Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) of Executive Yuan sorry it’s in chinese, some minor translation and colouring added)
Now some Taiwanese might say “HEY 50,000 is a pretty good salary, shouldn’t you look at who makes less than 40,000?” And here is where it gets interesting. Even though the salary level in Taiwan is so low, people are used to it although many have big spendings to cover. Overall, life in Taiwan (and especially Taipei) can be quite costly. Especially if you are married and need to pay off your car, mortgage for your house, pay for bu xi ban for your kids (and a lot of people buy houses here instead of renting) etc.. But in the last years more and more people have moved abroad, and this time not only the US or UK, but increasingly China, Hong Kong, Singapore. In those countries, there is less of a language and cultural gap, but the salary level can easily reach triple or more of that in Taiwan. Also working holidays in Australia have become popular among younger people. It’s not seldom that you hear a Taiwanese with an office job deciding to go for a job on a farm or a factory in Australia because he or she can save more money and support their parents. In times when in Taiwan wages adjusted for inflation decreased by 1.6 per cent (in 2012) and are now below the wage level of 2000, while real wage in Asia is growing, can you really blame them?
The people who are leaving
The big difference is that it is not only students anymore who are making the escape. And it is not only a selected elite of MBA or PhD title holders. It has become easier for everyone to relocate thanks to more opportunities in the countries not too far away (YAY to Chinese growth). This does have an impact on the productivity and it does not help that at the same time Taiwan is not able to attract highly qualified people from abroad.
3. The trust in the judiciary system is on a constant low – people feel powerless
So here I write intentionally the trust is on a low, because I have neither the expertise nor did I have the time to seriously do research on it. If anyone more familiar with the judiciary system could give his/her opinion that would be great!
When someone turns on one of the 10+ news channels on TV, chances are high that you see either 1. A consumer complaining about a product or a shop, 2. Commercials or 3. Propaganda (from either of the two main parties). Number 1 is a very typical behavior of someone who is let down by the means of the law to adress a problem. And this seems to be true for small things (e.g. coffee got spilled in customer…ok I know that dude must be a drama queen), to big things (half of the country seems to be corrupt).
This makes people feel very powerless, especially because it does not seem to get better no matter which party is in power. Well I don’t want to say democracy is failing in Taiwan but it is certainly not working in the right way right now.
So after such a long complaint post I need to say that it is complaining at a high level. This island is actually pretty awesome.. I’m sure many can agree. I’ll prove it with more posts eventually!! 😀