Taiwan university cuts down on insurance for its teaching assistants to save money

TAIPEI, Taiwan - National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) declared yesterday that it will carry out a new training programme in place of the old teaching assistant (TA) policy, which will soon be implemented in the coming semester and no TAs will be on campus in the future, said NTNU.

Students applying to this new programme are still required to carry out the same tasks TAs did, such as working with professors on research, teaching and also helping slower students who find classes difficult to catch up, according to NTNU.

Only junior, senior and graduate students can apply for the programme. They don't actually get paid, but will be offered two "bonuses" of NT$8,000 (S$346) each semester. At the end of the semester, professors grade the applicants and give them bonuses accordingly, the school said.

To cut down on staff expenditure was the school's main concern when planning the programme, according to local media. In June, the Ministry of Labor ordered that university TAs be covered by labour insurance, which worried many universities. Now under the new programme, TAs are taking the role of "apprentice" in training, so they are not covered by insurance, said the school.

NTNU President Chang Kuo-en said that some TAs from low-income households used to get government reimbursement. If they are covered by insurance, their salary will be counted as part of their household income then they may not be counted as low-income households and therefore lose the reimbursement, said Chang.

On the other hand, the Taiwan Higher Education Union (THEU) said that, by law, TAs should be covered by insurance. It pointed out that the basic problem is that universities don't have sufficient funding to support the TA programme and universities are forced to reduce the number of TAs or to shut down the whole programme, said the THEU.

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