A group of undergraduate and graduate students yesterday called for transparency in the budgeting and spending of the school affairs fund at tertiary institutions, saying that funds are being used as university presidents’ “personal coffers.”
The fund, comprised of government funding and tuition fees, is being used by university presidents and reviewed by auditors they directly supervise, with no checks or balances, National Taiwan University Graduate Student Association chairman Wan Yu-chun (王昱鈞) told a news conference in Taipei.
Students at some universities have in the past few years called for new dormitories be built or traffic on the campus be improved, but the universities have repeatedly rejected the calls, saying they did not have enough money, Wan said.
“The opaque use of these funds raises the question of whether it has been misappropriated,” he said, citing a report about the National Taiwan University of Business’s alleged misuse of its fund, which Wan said shows that the mechanism is problematic.
He called on lawmakers to amend the National University School Affairs Fund Establishment Act (國立大學校院校務基金設置條例) to require that the budgeting and spending of such funds be reviewed by a panel comprised of members from all branches that take part in school affairs meetings, saying that without such a mechanism, the fund is susceptible to misuse.
Taiwan’s 49 national universities have about NT$113 billion (US$3.7 billion) at their disposal annually, National Taiwanese University College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor Wu Ruey-beei (吳瑞北) said.
However, an amendment to the act in 2015 changed the way in which school affairs fund auditors are staffed, allowing them to be directly appointed by university presidents, Wu said.
This made the presidents both the users and auditors of their funds, which hurts the rights of the faculty and students alike, he said.
Following the example of National Taiwan University (NTU) president Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔), many NTU faculty have used the phrase “university autonomy” when trying to justify the way in which its fund is used, but university autonomy does not equate to a university president having autonomy in spending the school affairs fund, NTU Students Association member Hsieh Pei-ling (謝佩玲) said.
Some NTU professors and officials have deliberately misled the media by downplaying the issue of university presidents having been given the power to appoint auditors for their funds, she said.
Alliance Against Commercializing Education member Lai Pei-lien (賴沛蓮) said that the funds were introduced to give universities leeway in limiting their expenses amid shortfalls in the central government’s budget for higher education.
However, this “capitalist mindset” has hurt the rights of lecturers and students at less popular departments, such as anthropology and mathematics, as they have not received funding, despite having made academic achievements, Lai said, calling for measures to be introduced so that each schools’ fund can undergo proper scrutiny.