In 2013, Jon Henley, correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, wrote about the unemployment crisis confronting young Europeans, and described ‘a legion of young, often highly qualified people, entering a so-called job market that offers very few any hope of a job – let alone the kind they have been educated for’ (Henley, 2019). This scene is not limited to Europe. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, 65.8% of people in their 20s and early 30s had degrees in 2014, but university graduates accounted for around one-third (34.1%) of all casual employment in the country – an increase of 41.7% over six years.1 A series of financial reforms that favoured business conglomerates and the wealthy (Lin et al, 2011; Huang, 2014), together with the market-oriented expansion of higher-education institutions (Chan and Lin, 2015), have rendered a huge number of ‘qualified youth’ jobless over the last two decades. The growing concerns regarding the so-called ‘crumbling generation’ reflect the danger of Taiwan facing economic and demographic catastrophe2 in the near future (Lin et al, 2011; Ku, 2017; Huang, 2014). Despite the dire warnings, those aged 18–22 who are currently studying at university and face a gloomy future have been largely overlooked so far.
This chapter focuses on Taiwan’s college students who are vulnerable to diploma inflation and job uncertainty before graduating. A hike in tuition fees3 is the basis of their financial predicament, since it often necessitates the taking on of student loans,4 which in turn has a stifling effect on their future (Huang, 2010).