MOE probes alleged exploitation of Eswatini students by Taiwan university

MOE investigating charges that Mingdao University siphoned off Eswatini students' wages

MDU faculty and Eswatini students. (YouTube, 彰化人彰化事 screenshot)

MDU faculty and Eswatini students. (YouTube, 彰化人彰化事 screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Thursday (May 28) that it is opening up an investigation into charges that Mingdao University (MDU) has allegedly been exploiting its students from Eswatini.

Last week, news broke of an incident in 2018, in which MDU allegedly duped 47 students from Eswatini into taking part in a work-study program that sent them to work in a factory skinning chicken carcasses. Yu Jung-hui (尤榮輝), chairman of the Union of Private School Educators (UPRISE), said the students were "slave labor" and that MDU is "almost an international fraud," calling for an investigation.

An investigation by the MOE found the school illegally required Eswatini freshmen to work outside the school in "internships" of more than 20 hours a week. The ministry then told the university the students could continue their education at the school but the institution could not ask them to work to offset their tuition and fees.

The news resurfaced last week because some students claimed the university unilaterally changed its method of reducing tuition and fees, requiring a certain number of hours for service learning, reported China Times. This led to some students feeling their rights and interests were being affected, so they complained to the MOE.

On May 21, MDU President Kuo Chu-hsun (郭秋勳) appeared at a news conference with five of the students, who claimed they were satisfied with their working conditions. The university also sent a statement about the incident to Taiwan News, in which it emphasized six key points, including: It did not use labor brokers, the students were to work three days a week and take classes three days a week, and the students were provided proper protective clothing of the kind available to other employees.

It also said the students could choose the employer that best suited them, that the tuition and fees were explained in English before they came to Taiwan. Also, that the courses were taught in English or bilingually, while Chinese language study courses were provided to improve their Mandarin.

However, on Tuesday (May 26), UPRISE sent a letter to the MOE alleging the Eswatini students were not being paid directly for their internships at factories, but instead the companies gave "donations." The union alleged that MDU had only allotted a fraction of the proceeds from these "donations" toward the tuition fees of the students.

List of donations given by corporations to MDU. (MDU website screenshot)

The group included with the letter a list of the "scholarships" and "stipends" made by various companies from 2012 to 2018, which it claimed served as wages earned by students during internships. The union stated the amounts in donations climbed into the hundreds of thousands of Taiwan dollars each month under the guise of "fake internships" that had no oversight.

In response to the letter, the MOE told CNA on May 28 that it told MDU to terminate its contract with the companies in 2019 and reduced the school's international student quota for the 2019-2020 school year. The MOE added that it would investigate the evidence recently provided by UPRISE.

The ministry emphasized that it is illegal for universities to use brokers to recruit foreign students. It also warned that universities will be severely punished for illegal employment.

Regarding the allegations over the corporate contributions, MDU Secretary-General and Director of Human Resources Chan Kuo-hua (詹國華) told CNA they were completely unrelated to the students' tuition fees. Chan claimed the school only charges Eswatini students NT$10,000 (US$330) for tuition and fees per semester, representing a substantial subsidy in comparison with the NT$50,000 charged to ordinary students and "much higher than the donations provided by companies."

Yu responded to this claim by asking, "If the funds donated by the companies to Mingdao University are not made in exchange for the students' work, what is the purpose of this money?" He then expressed his hope the MOE could get to the bottom of the situation.