(photo by Lin Min-hsuan)
Every year, more than NT$3 billion in scholarships flows forth from private sources in Taiwan. This invisible force has supported social progress for many years, and though it’s rarely noticed, it’s always there. Thanks to the Foundation of Taiwan Organizations for Philanthropic Education, which recently launched the Taiwan Scholarship Information Platform, many rivers are flowing together into a great ocean, linking resources from all corners of society, and proving yet again that Taiwan’s greatest asset is its people.
As National Taoyuan Special School celebrates the anniversary of its founding, an aura of happy excitement pervades the campus. Some students gather on the playground to watch a unicycle performance, while a smaller number attend classes. These campus events and the school’s day-to-day operations are made possible through the generosity of patrons from all walks of life.
The homeroom teachers double as caseworkers and have a special understanding of each student’s family circumstances. Most special-needs students’ families are underprivileged, and costly ongoing medical treatments have pushed many of them to the brink of poverty. Consequently, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, these frontline instructors often need to assist parents in locating financial resources.
Although scholarship money isn’t much, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of NT dollars, it can be a lifesaver in time of need. But many of the teachers say that although there are abundant scholarship resources available from nongovernmental sources, for the most part they have depended on each private source notifying the school before the scholarships could be announced on the school website. Because the sources are many and sundry, if one didn’t pay careful attention, it was easy to miss them. Even if prospective applicants found the information, they had to comb through the offers one by one to see which ones were applicable to them, a time-consuming and tiring process.
Fortunately, the Foundation of Taiwan Organizations for Philanthropic Education (FTOPE) recently launched the Taiwan Scholarship Information Platform, solving the problem by integrating information from a wide range of donors.
It’s up to you!
From notion to completion, the scholarship platform was more than 30 years in the making. The story begins with Professor Wang Chen-shiuen, now director of the master’s program in social enterprise management at Chinese Culture University’s School of Continuing Education, as well as founder and chairman of the FTOPE.
In 1991, Wang was studying in the USA, and like many other foreign students, was searching for part-time work opportunities in his free time. “Luckily, I didn’t have to serve meals in a restaurant or work at the university library. Instead I found an office job in the university’s financial department,” he says.
In American society, which reveres individual freedom, parents see their children as adults after high-school graduation at age 18. Up to 60% of American students have to pay costly tuition and living expenses themselves, but US universities also provide comprehensive support based on students’ needs. Wang Chen-shiuen’s job at that time was to assist students in seeking scholarships. He would filter items from a scholarship database according to students’ different identities, backgrounds, and needs, and provide them for the students to consider.
Helping others has always been the focus of Wang’s long academic career. He established the FTOPE in his own name and dedicated himself to promoting philanthropy in the field of education. With that in mind, he wished to launch a scholarship information platform for all students. But through many years of deliberation, he lacked the motivation to put his plan into action. In the meantime, he taught at various universities, and also served on the Executive Yuan’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission. Five years ago, however, he suffered a serious illness, which finally gave him the determination to carry out his idea.
Following coronary artery bypass surgery and a brush with death, Wang says, “My thinking is completely different now.”
User-friendly precision searches
There are thousands of scholarships. According to FTOPE statistics, NT$3 billion in scholarships is awarded to 300,000 students in Taiwan every year. Since the scholarships are mostly allocated from the interest paid on financial deposits, there is at least NT$300 billion in educational funds, an impressive sum.
However, although resources are plentiful, Taiwan never had a well-built system to integrate them in one place, leaving those resources scattered, so that scholarships were often incompletely distributed. It was a headache for those awarding the funds, and for students wanting to apply for scholarships, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The Scholarship Information Platform was set up to deal with those issues. Benefitting from Wang Chen-shiuen’s experience in the US, users can conduct precise searches based on household registration location, schools and departments attended, academic scores, and special status or conditions such as low-income family, family with disabilities, overseas Chinese student, “new immigrant,” sporting achievement or other special talent, family clan association, parents’ union membership, life insurance holder, and so forth. It also covers students of different ages, from elementary school to graduate students, and even mainland Chinese students and foreign students.
In the process of inventorying scholarships, Wang has learned something. “Scholarships are the most representative form of social pluralism, altruism, and public welfare,” he says. Precisely because these resources are not concentrated or monopolized, but circulate freely among the people, we can say that the more democratic, open, and pluralistic a society is, the more abundant and diverse its scholarships will be, symbolizing the vitality of civil society.
No excuses—get a scholarship!
It’s common for European and North American students to apply for scholarships. But social conditions are different here—Taiwanese students have a more cautious mindset, and over 90% of them have never applied for one. According to Ministry of Education statistics, however, more than 40% of domestic college students have taken out student loans, and many high-school students are already carrying student debt. Yet there are still many people who don’t have a correct understanding of scholarships, believing they’re reserved for academically gifted students or those with special family backgrounds.
But many scholarships don’t have strict eligibility criteria—they were established with nothing more than the intention to provide students with support to help them concentrate on their studies. Scholarships exist to distribute resources, and it’s only natural for students to obtain scholarships for themselves.
“Getting a scholarship isn’t hard!” Many students don’t realize this until they drop their preconceived notions. Before you finish your schooling, why not apply for a scholarship, which is a lesson in its own right—learning to take personal responsibility.