A friend was over recently from Hong Kong. We agreed to meet at noon, and he arrived breathless. 'Taiwan's population is so young,' he gasped. 'I came out of my hotel and the street was absolutely jam-packed - and everyone looked about 19.' When I checked the location of his hotel, I understood immediately. It was in the bushiban, or cram-college, area. Classes had been let out at 11.55am, just in time to encounter my friend as he left his hotel. It is not often that statistics astonish me, but here is one that does. Compulsory education in Taiwan is from age six to 15, but after 15 the proportion of students who go on to further study is - wait for it - 99.97 per cent. Some of this is accounted for by senior secondary schools (Taiwan's education is organised largely on the American model), which take students leaving junior high school on to university or college entrance. But there are not enough of these senior schools for everyone. Others enter vocational junior colleges and other comparable academies, but huge numbers rely on the cram-school network to shepherd them to university. Many of Taipei's bushiban (the term was originally Japanese) are crowded in the narrow streets south of the main train station. They are colourful places, with window displays parading the names of successful graduates and large maps showing the location of key university cities in the United States and Britain. Gaining entrance to universities abroad is a prime target. The bushiban employ many foreign teachers, almost all instructors of English. Hearsay evidence has it that a foreign English teacher will attract many more students than a local one. As the bushiban are highly competitive commercial operations, anything that will lure students through their doors is eagerly seized on. Last week brought the news of a clampdown on working visas for such teachers. Some, it was claimed, were moving from one bushiban to another, or working for two simultaneously without informing the authorities. But the hunger for English instruction is so enormous that little is likely to slow the influx. English proficiency is already an all-but indispensable ingredient for any educational programme, and the teeming cram-colleges are there to satisfy this demand. A local friend had a spare room in his house. 'What are you going to do with it?' I asked. 'Set up an English school, probably,' he replied. I laughed, but the reality was that he was in deadly earnest. When I next met him, he told me he already had three teachers and 29 students.