Famed Taiwanese baker rejected at home tries NUS

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 25, 2013

TAIPEI/SINGAPORE - He is an award-winning baker, a master of the breaded arts, hailed as the "glory of Taiwan" alongside Oscar-winning movie director Lee Ang.

But that is not enough for Taiwanese universities, which have rejected Mr Wu Pao-chun's attempts to get a master's degree, driving him to try his luck in Singapore.

It was at the prestigious Bakery World Cup in Paris in 2010 where Mr Wu, now 43, became a national icon.

He beat 23 rivals from 16 countries to clinch the title of Master Baker in the bread category with his rose-lychee bread creation that includes millet wine, rose petals and dried lychees - ingredients that came from Taiwan.

"I fulfilled my dream. I was able to brighten the name Taiwan," he said then.

His Wu Pao-chun Bread bakery, which opened in Kaohsiung in late 2010 to much fanfare, reportedly racked up sales of more than NT$200 million (S$8.4 million) last year.

The pineapple tarts he sells are named after his mother, the late Madam Chen Wu-hsien. The youngest of eight children, he was raised by the widow in the southern county of Pingtung.

He quit school after junior high - the equivalent of secondary school in Singapore - to become a baking apprentice in Taipei, as he could not bear to see his mother slog to make ends meet.

But, despite his culinary and business achievements, he was turned down in his applications to the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) programme at the National Chengchi University and National Sun Yat-sen University.

Taiwan's EMBA programmes typically require either a bachelor's degree and at least seven years of working experience, or a Class A licence - the top accreditation for professions such as doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Mr Wu is accredited only to Class B level, given for jobs like hairdressing and baking.

News of his rejection has sparked questions in Taiwan over its rigid education system. Dr Yang Pan-chyr, president of the National Taiwan University, said last Wednesday that the island's over-emphasis on academic qualifications has caused it to lose its competitive edge.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou called for the education ministry to review enrolment regulations for its EMBA programmes.

Last Friday, the ministry moved to relax the University Act, allowing Class B licence holders with at least five years of work experience, to enrol in master's programmes.

Those who have won international competitions would also be eligible. This revision was nicknamed the Wu Pao-chun clause.

This has come as the baker is trying his chances in Singapore.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) confirmed last Friday that it has received Mr Wu's application to its Chinese EMBA programme, and it "is currently undergoing due process".

NUS did not disclose when it is expected to make a decision. Intake for the programme, however, is in June, according to the school's website.

While the programme requires a bachelor's degree and at least eight years of full-time working experience, exceptions are sometimes made.

An NUS spokesman said prospective students who "do not hold formal educational qualifications but have had successful careers, outstanding entrepreneurial experience or are in senior management positions" may also apply and they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier on, NUS had sent its Chinese EMBA programme director to Taiwan to interview Mr Wu, even though he had not submitted a formal application then.

Mr Wu, reacting to Mr Ma's instruction to relax regulations so he can study in Taiwan, said while he will choose to study there if he can, he does not want an exception to be made just for him.

He told reporters in Taipei last Thursday: "I'm willing to apply through normal channels."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 25, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to