The Private and Public Sectors Work Together to Fill Talent Gaps Six Major Semiconductor Research Colleges
The semiconductor industry is an economic pillar of the Republic of China (R.O.C, Taiwan), but as the global economy changes, a semiconductor talent gap has appeared. In addition, those graduating from master’s and doctoral programs who seek to join the industry are concerned about whether what they have learned fits industry needs.
In May 2021, to fulfill the need for quality and quantity of high level talent in the semiconductor industry, the National Key Fields Industry-University Cooperation and Skilled Personnel Training Act (the Training Act for short) was passed, relaxing some educational regulations in order to foster industry-academia collaboration, to set up research institutes at top national universities to conduct research in particular key national fields, and to cultivate talent by helping to smooth the transition of these newcomers into the industry with support from industry, academia, and government agencies.
Six semiconductor research institutes have consequently been set up across the island: the Graduate School of Advanced Technology at National Taiwan University, the Innovation Frontier Institute of Research for Science and Technology at National Taipei University of Technology, the College of Semiconductor Research at National Tsing Hua University, the Industry Academia Innovation School at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, the Academy of Innovative Semiconductor and Sustainable Manufacturing at National Cheng Kung University, and the College of Semiconductor and Advanced Technology Research at National Sun-yat Sen University. Together, in 2022, they admitted 483 master’s students and 80 doctoral students, helping the semiconductor industry to resolve the high-level talent shortage.
These semiconductor research institutes feature closer industry, academia, and government agency partnerships than past industry-academia cooperation. Mr. Chun-Chang Chu, Director of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education (MOE), points out that the characteristics of the semiconductor research institutes are established by both corporation and government agency funding, of which corporation funding must make up over half. Only after corporation funding is secured does the government budget for the proposed institutes.
The national universities themselves seek out potential corporate partners to sign a letter of intent. The six current institutes have respectively partnered with 7 to 14 corporations, which, in addition to funding, provide industry instructors and co-design courses.
“Contributing funding means that the corporations are no longer just advisers but one of the decision-makers,” Mr. Chu said. Since the corporations can make requests regarding course design and instructor qualifications, the institutes will better cater to industry needs, and their talent training will better fit the state of the industry. The semiconductor research institutes thereby pioneer a new form of university management, in which corporate (industry), government (government agencies), and university (academic) representatives constitute the institutes’ management committees and have decision-making powers over the institute.
The Government and National Universities Cooperate on Quality Control
In terms of founding spirit, the semiconductor research institutes are all new independent entities outside of the existing national university structure. Some might wonder why the government is making such complex efforts. Is the talent produced by existing colleges insufficient?
Mr. Chu explains that one reason is to avoid taking up existing national universities’ educational resources. In addition, to effectively resolve the semiconductor industry’s high-level talent shortage, encourage top corporations to join in talent cultivation, and place university technical research and educational content at the forefront of the industry, the government must loosen regulations within a “controllable” extent and enhance academic autonomy and flexibility.
The passing of the Training Act has induced institutional innovations; with the full support of the government, the institutes have created many innovative, flexible, and unprecedented mechanisms to unlock educational potential, such as:
1. Organization: pioneering a new form of university management akin to existing university autonomy structures and emulating corporate management. Government entities including the National Development Council, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the National Science and Technology Council convoke a steering committee for the innovation of national key fields industry-university cooperation and of the training of highly skilled professional personnel (the Innovation Steering Committee); the national universities convoke Supervisory Committees; and the institutes convoke Management Committees, thereby allowing industry, academia, and government agency supervision and participation in institute affairs.
2. Personnel: an independent personnel structure and more flexible hiring standards and procedures for the institutes. For example, the institute director can be a professor, or an industry expert from outside the faculty, and there is no need to be an educational institute staff member. The pay structure can be designed to allow for more flexible promotions and pay adjustments.
3. Finances: independent from the National University Endowment Fund. The institutes have independent budgets, specially appropriated from funding from the corporate partners and the National Development Fund; and the Budget, Accounting, Financial Statement, and Audit Acts have been loosened to allow for independently formulated regulations governing the revenue and expenditure management of self-generated income.
4. Equipment and assets: remodeling existing school buildings to serve as the six semiconductor research institutes’ administrative, educational, and laboratory spaces. The National Property Act has also been loosened to allow for custom supervision and management regulations.
5. Talent cultivation: loosening the University Act and Degree Conferral Act. The institutes can set their own student recruitment channels and quotas, program length, graduation credits, and degree conferral regulations, and the recruitment standards of foreign students can be more flexible.
6. Procurement: loosening the Government Procurement Act to allow for custom procurement procedures.
Choosing Top Partners for Semiconductor Research Institutes
Every March, national universities can submit National Key Fields Industry-University Innovation Program proposals, which should include annual corporate funding plans and a letter of intent. From the existing six semiconductor research institutes, we can see that the Innovation Steering Committee’s high standards for applications to national universities and partner corporations have resulted in top participants on both sides.
National university application qualifications:
1. International reputation: within the top 500 of the previous year’s QS World University Ranking, or within the top 500 of the key national field’s corresponding QS ranking of the previous year.
2. Industry-university cooperation performance: within the top 30% of national universities’ revenue from intellectual property capitalization in the past three years, or within the top 30% of national universities’ industry-university cooperation corporate funding in the past three years.
3. Talent cultivation potential: within the top 30% of national universities’ total student enrollment and full-time faculty size (either schoolwide or institute-related fields) in the last academic year.
Partner corporation application qualifications:
The corporation must belong to an industry related to the key national field announced by the MOE. Currently the semiconductor field is the first one of these focus areas. The corporation must provide long-term funding for the institute and a letter of intent or commitment; it must not be Mainland Chinese–funded; funding earmarked for the institute must not be provided from Mainland China; and the corporation must meet one of the following conditions:
1. Research and development expenditures must equal at least 5% of annual revenue for at least three of the past five years, to demonstrate the importance of talent and research to the corporation.
2. The corporation must have significant industry achievements related to the key national field in global market share, industry expertise, supply chain roles, or other key aspects, and clear supporting documentation needs to be provided.
3. The corporation must be a leader, or have a significant position of influence, in the industry related to the key national field.
4. The corporation must have a long-term industry-university cooperation relationship with the university and have made material contributions.
The semiconductor institutes have welcomed their first class of students, whose achievements are sure to be considerable. The special expertise of each institute will undoubtedly inject new energy into the semiconductor industry. Moreover, the government also looks forward to announcing other key national fields and participating universities depending on the performance of the semiconductor research institutes. The experience of this innovative project can promote the loosening of related university regulations, the unleashing of talent, the leadership of industry, and the creative potential of higher education development.