Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bushiban Teacher Population Changes

Feiren, one the island's more perspicacious observers, was observing the teacher population over time on Forumosa, the popular expat discussion forum, today. He wrote:
I was trying to figure out how many teachers get deported from Taiwan for violating their work permits. Unfortunately, the Immigration agency does not release this information. Might be interesting to do a freedom of information request.

But I did find stats on the number of teachers here with work permits and was surprised to learn that in 1992 there were just 1,500 teachers here on work permits. Now at that time they had just begun issuing work permit and residence cards to teachers and most teachers still flew to Hong Kong every six months. But as late as 2000 there were still only 3,800 foreign teachers legally residing in Taiwan. That figure peaked in 2004 at 6,831 and stayed above 6,000 until June of this year when it declined to 5,749. In October there were 5,946.

Thus the number of legal teachers has increased by one-third in the past decade and increased four times since 1992. Those figure suggest an over supply of teachers, which might explain why wages are decreasing and employers are becoming more selective.
Another poster quickly pointed out that in 1992 open work permits didn't really exist. In those days everyone was teaching gray-market using various approaches, such as getting a visa to "study Chinese" WINK WINK. Feiren then added some more information:
I don't think there are stats for buxiban students, adult or children.

Here are some numbers for students in various private and public schools.

In 1992, there were 2.2 million elementary school students and 1.79 million junior high school students.

In 2009, there were 1.59 million elementary school students and 948,000 junior high school students. Of course, because there are fewer kids, parents have more resources to spend on the kids they do have, so I would guess that the number of students studying English probably increased even as the total number of students declined.

Another interesting set of figures from the MOE is the percentage of household income that can be allocated to education. The average figure peaked at around NT$48,000 in 2004 and decline to NT$42,500 in 2009. There was a drop of more than 10% in 2008. That tracks the declining number of English teachers over the same period by almost the same amount c. 11.5%.
Five years ago I wrote about this (holy crap, this blog has been around over five years!), asking why teacher pay is basically the same as it was when I was here 20 years ago. The reason is the economic condition known as perfect competition:
As the chains proliferated, the size of schools began to shrink rapidly. It is now the case that around large elementary schools in Taiwan there may be a dozen or two English schools, each serving only a few score students. Essentially a situation of perfect competition has arisen in the market, where producers are small relative to market size, prices are equal to marginal cost and marginal revenues, and everyone knows the market well. Schools must struggle to keep costs down if they want to stay alive. Growth is difficult, for if the market increases anywhere, another school will quickly open to subdivide the market. Teacher pay is a major cost component for schools. With competition intense, and everyone facing the same cost structures, it was inevitable that teacher pay should become identical and stagnant within local markets.
Everyone always blames the South Africans for stagnant teacher pay (but never Americans because everyone knows we are overweight, overprivileged, and overpaid) but they are wrong. The issue is the conditions of the market -- both owners and parents know the price of an English class, the textbooks, etc, and everyone offers the same thing throughout most of the market, just as with tea shops or breakfast places. The proliferation of schools means that demand for teachers has risen even though the number of students has fallen because (1) there are more schools and (2) class sizes have shriveled.

Further, Feiren made a nifty catch when he pointed out that few children means more kids are studying English since more money can be lavished on them. He also observed that the fall in cram school teachers tracks the fall in household expenditures on education, another indication that the problem is a structural factor like perfect competition and not hordes of South Africans or Canadians. Nice spot, Feiren.
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Okami said...

I'd say the decline is actually more serious as they closed most of the private non-university schools around 2004-6 that could get you visa extensions(i.e. Flag/CLI) and moved everything to universities who cater to the lucrative market of SE Asians laborers such as Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Thais; or westerners.

I'd also says schools are getting more professional in hiring and better at meeting the needs of their customers. In 2000, I got hired just for showing up to the interview, in 2004 I had to give a great demo, now I have someone basically do background checks and asking me probing questions(for example my most recent side job). My current school has shockingly low turnover in their student body. It also got easier to get a work permit and ARC in that time without having to have connections. In 2000 it was something of a mystery how it was done and your paperwork could get kicked back for anything, now it's basically a transparent relatively painless process handled by a special agency for your ARC.

The market has also changed a lot. The GEPT has been a boon to schools that have learned how to harness and teach it. I'd say the GEPT was a catalyst for change in the market. A lot of the franchisers haven't noticed this yet and there is some fallout with the franchisees over it. Adult conversation classes are basically gone except for highly specialized company classes(rare) or extremely low paying jobs(GVC).

Michael Turton said...

Excellent insight on the GEPT.

Anonymous said...

Another aspect is that the parents of today's children are *gasp!* at the age where they too attended buxiban in their youth and are much more savvy. They are far more critical.

FOARP said...

Yeah, fresh out of university back in '01, 55,000 NT$ plus bonus a month was good dough. Not so sure about nowadays though - somehow I think B1's doesn't do its 300 NT$ all-you-can-drink deal any more.

Steven Crook... said...

Okami said:

"It also got easier to get a work permit and ARC in that time without having to have connections. In 2000 it was something of a mystery how it was done and your paperwork could get kicked back for anything, now it's basically a transparent relatively painless process handled by a special agency for your ARC."

I got a work visa/ARC for teaching in early 1992 and had no problems, even when getting one from a different school in 1998. Nothing about connections, as far as I could tell.

Top 100 in Taiwan said...

Does the current statistic you mentioned on number of teachers requesting an ARC include teachers who have an APRC and an open work permit? The number of foreigners in Taiwan today who have married and stayed more than 5 years has risen. Wouldn't this account for a decrease in the number of teachers requesting an ARC through the government? In other words, I don't need to apply for an ARC any more because I have an APRC (and open work permit) which doesn't expire. So do people like me fall into another category and are then not counted in those statistics that you mentioned? Also, there is a rise in the number of teachers coming here who are working directly in the public school system.

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