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DPP lawmaker, NGOs slam university over alleged labor violations involving Filipino students

Legislator Fan Yun, Taiwan Labor Front Association, Taiwan Association of Human Rights urge swift action from Education Ministry

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Kao Yuan University student delivers video statement for press conference while wearing mask to protect identity. (KYU Student screenshot)

Kao Yuan University student delivers video statement for press conference while wearing mask to protect identity. (KYU Student screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Fan Yun (范雲) was joined by the Taiwan Association of Human Rights and Taiwan Labor Front Friday morning (May 6) to accuse Kao Yuan University (KYU) of misleading students about its work-study program and making them work long shifts in factories to keep up with tuition and other fees.

One of the sources for a Taiwan News report on the issue had contacted Fan's office about her experiences at KYU. In a video shown during Friday's press conference at a Legislative Yuan building, this student detailed the hardship of keeping up with studies while working 40-plus hour shifts so she could afford tuition, accommodation, and a NT$63,000 program fee.

KYU students recruited in the Philippines, in conjunction with personnel agency JS Contractor, Inc., were told they would be set up with part-time jobs as well as internships related to their majors — mechanical engineering. Instead, the internships were, in fact, just an additional four hours of work put on top of their part-time jobs. Thus, the school and personnel agency are able to circumvent the legal 20-hour-per-week limit on student labor.

DPP lawmaker, NGOs slam university over alleged labor violations involving Filipino students
Taiwan Association of Human Rights' Shi I-hsiang, Legislator Fan Yun, Taiwan Labor Front Association's Sun Yu-lien. (Taiwan News photo)

"Internships"

At the press conference, a second Filipino student alleged via video that during the recruitment process, KYU had misrepresented the conditions students would face. He called the grinding, welding, packing, cleaning, and other work they end up doing "just hard labor."

He said he had made the video to "expose this sh-- show" before KYU recruits additional Southeast Asian students.

The hosts of the event cited KYU enrollment material claiming students can get by on only NT$80,000 per year in Taiwan, excluding tuition and other school-related fees. This unrealistically low sum misleads students from low-income countries, leaving them no other option but to work full-time, they pointed out.

Legislator Fan pointed out that foreigners account for 31% of KYU's students. The proportion is high, she said, because the school has taken advantage of the Regulations Regarding International Students Undertaking Studies in Taiwan. In its current form, the law enables universities to make up for low enrollment by over-enrolling international students — by 167 students, in the case of KYU in 2018.

She pointed out there is currently no requirement that universities lay out the specifics of professional internship programs for New Southbound students, which calls into question the quality of such programs in the future.

Footage from three Philippine students' allegations about Kao Yuan University:


(YouTube, Taiwan News video)

Lesson learned?

Taiwan Association of Human Rights Secretary-General Shi I-hsiang (施逸翔) said that if the allegations surrounding Kao Yuan are true, they represent International Labour Organization indicators such as abuse of a vulnerable situation, deceit, overtime, debt bondage, and harsh living and working conditions.

Taiwan Labor Front Association Secretary-General Sun Yu-lien (孫友聯) accused the Ministry of Education (MOE) of failing to learn a lesson from other incidents in recent memory in which foreign students' rights were violated. He called on the ministry to thoroughly investigate the root causes and to cooperate with the Ministry of Labor on imposing the necessary penalties.

Fan and Sun also previously helped organize a press event for Ugandan students sent to a factory "internship" by Chung Chou University, which was eventually barred from enrolling new students. Other similar incidents in recent years involved Eswatini student workers at MingDao University in 2020 and Sri Lankan students at the University of Kang Ning in 2018.

"Ministries and associations should work together to do a good job monitoring and stop allowing Taiwan's higher education policy to become a black hole for human rights," said a joint press statement following the event.

Under the spotlight

The MOE has been investigating KYU since last month and has twice sent officials on surprise visits to the university to interview students. The MOE said it will continue to make surprise inspections at certain universities related to their foreign student enrollment, classes, teaching faculty, and student rights.

Kao Yuan was placed on a "special guidance" list of schools at the beginning of the year and barred from enrolling new international students, the MOE announced in a statement early on Friday. Improvements in the school's education of overseas students is one of the requirements for removal from the list, according to the ministry.