TAIPEI, January 11, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwan has decided to allow public universities to merge as student numbers continue to shrink due to one of the world's lowest birth rates, an official with the education ministry said Tuesday.
President Ma Ying-jeou this month ordered "national security-level" counter-measures to address the falling birth rate after figures showed a steady fall to a record-low of 166,886 births last year.
Two planned mergers, one of them involving the leading National Taiwan University, are likely to go ahead after parliament passed a bill Monday allowing colleges to team up to better utilise resources, said the official.
The bill came after a recent forecast predicted that about 60 colleges out of the island's current 164 could close down by 2021 due to a severe shortage of students.
Currently, around 300,000 high school graduates are eligible to apply for college each year but the number is expected to drop to 195,000 in 2021, according to the forecast.
The authorities have launched various initiatives to boost the island's fertility rates, including a massive plan to offer $1.3 billion a year in birth incentives and childcare support from 2012.
Taiwan's birth rate stood at 7.21 births per 1,000 people last year, government data showed. That compares with a global average of more than 20 births per 1,000 people, according to the United Nations.