Wu Maw-kuen sworn in as education minister, addresses controversies

Wu Maw-kuen (吳茂昆), a member of Taiwan's top research institute Academia Sinica, took office as the new minister of education Thursday. (Photo courtesy of NOWnews, 2018. 4.19)

Taipei, April 19 (CNA) Wu Maw-kuen (吳茂昆), a member of Taiwan’s top research institute Academia Sinica, took office as the new minister of education Thursday.

Wu, a distinguished research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Physics, replaced Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) who resigned amid a controversy over the appointment of a national university president.

Speaking to reporters after his swearing-in ceremony, Wu said a decision on the controversial selection of Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) as head of National Taiwan University (NTU) will be made next week at a meeting of an inter-ministerial panel that was specially appointed to deal with the matter.

The issue will be handled expeditiously and in accordance with the law, Wu said.

Kuan was selected on Jan. 5 to head NTU, but has since been accused of plagiarism and conflict of interest, which initially cast doubt on the legitimacy of his selection and prevented the education ministry from confirming his appointment with effect from Feb. 1 as scheduled.

In Wu’s session with reporters, he also addressed allegations against him of ties to Chinese entities, saying that he has had no cooperative relations with China other than academic exchanges.

He said many institutions in China have sought his advice in his capacity as an Academia Sinica member and a former foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

However, he always offered advice from a professional perspective and via academic exchanges, Wu said, adding that he never accepted a teaching post at a Chinese school or any position in China’s business sector as alleged.

He said he has interacted at academic meetings with the head of China’s Western Superconducting Technologies (WST) Co., Ltd, who is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and they once had a meal together in Taiwan.

He was referring to an allegation made Tuesday by Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), former deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office, that Wu is listed as an adviser to WST, which produces and sells titanium alloy products.

Earlier this month, two opposition Kuomintang members also said that Wu had worked as an adviser at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and served as a member of an advisory committee under the Beijing-funded China Center of Advanced Science and Technology World Laboratory.

Turning to the issue of China’s recent incentives to attract educated Taiwanese, Wu told reporters that he was not worried about a brain drain in light of Taiwan’s relatively good research and teaching environment.

He said that to the best of his knowledge, some Taiwanese academics were lured to Saudi Arabia and Singapore by higher pay but most of them have returned recently to Taiwan because of its superior research and education environment.

Taiwan, however, should work to improve its environment for the development of university students and teachers, he said.

Meanwhile, Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德), who appointed Wu to the post, said Thursday he believes the new minister will do a great job, given his educational background and work experience.

Wu is likely to push major education policies, including the reform of higher education, cultivation of talent and cooperation between the academic and business sectors, Lai said

Wu, aged 68, specializes in superconductivity, low-temperature physics, and high-pressure physics, holds a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Houston in the United States and has served as head of the now-defunct National Science Council, the Institute of Physics under Academia Sinica and National Dong Hwa University in Hualien County.

The National Science Council was upgraded and renamed the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2014.

(By Chen Chi-chung, Ku Chuan and Evelyn Kao)