Education Minister Tu Cheng-shen stressed yesterday that the Ministry of Education had not adjusted its proposal to invest NT$50 billion over five years in the nation's top universities, despite fears that it had done so only after a protest by National Chung Cheng University last year.
The Legislature's Education and Culture Committee approved the first-year funds on December 28 last year, and the MOE is expected to invest NT$9.8 billion in 12 universities this year.
Opposition Kuomintang Chairman Ma Jing-jeou on Friday night said opposition parties would continue to support the MOE's project to help Taiwanese universities become world class, after meeting with Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) in a conference of more than 100 Harvard University alumni.
The MOE's aims are, firstly, to have a Taiwan university become one of the top 100 universities in the world within 10 years and, secondly, to ensure 10 domestic university departments or research centers become the best in their fields in Asia.
Twenty-nine universities applied to receive a share of the funds. The field was then narrowed down to 17 after primary selection rounds, and then to 12 after the final round.
But not everyone was happy with the selection process and, on December 19 last year, secretary-general of National Chung Cheng University, Michael S. Chen, launched a hunger strike in front of the MOE to protest against what he felt was a questionable process of fund distribution.
Chen complained that although National Chung Cheng University was one of Taiwan's top universities, it had failed to make it past the first round of the selection process.
Because the process was deemed insufficiently transparent and it was perceived that the MOE had not explained its standards of review clearly enough, lawmakers decided to freeze the project's budget.
However, after the MOE submitted reports clarifying the standards for review, the Legislature approved the first-year fund.
But People First Party Legislator Lee Yong-ping (李永萍) said lawmakers had requested that the MOE submit another report to re-examine the matter by the end of the legislative session slated for January 13 and that there was still a chance that the Legislature would reverse its decision and pass the list of the 12 universities.
On Friday, Lu expressed fears that the MOE had changed its policy over the investment project after the National Chung Cheng University protest.
She expressed the hope that the MOE would follow its original investment plan and stick with the top universities.
However, Minister Tu said the MOE had not been affected by the National Chung Cheng University protest and had not adjusted its original plan.
He further denied that the investment was a short-term plan and said that the MOE would continue to invest funds in higher education every five-years in order to help develop world-class universities in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, KMT Chairman Ma said the KMT would continue to back the MOE's investment plan even if it appeared that there was not enough time and money to complete the project.
Ma compared the project with similar ones in other advanced countries, citing the Japanese government's solid investment in institutes of higher learning in an attempt to produce Nobel Prize winners.