Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday urged Taiwan universities to recruit foreign students to boost the island's international competitiveness and keep themselves in business. Because of Taiwan's low birthrate, the island's university have difficulty in recruiting students and dozens of them might be forced to close, he warned in his weekly newsletter.Taiwan News added some additional information:
Unless Taiwan universities boost their competitiveness, they would lose their top teachers and students to foreign universities, he added.
"If Taiwan wants to maintain its international competitiveness, our universities must offer more curriculum taught in English to lure foreign students," he said.
Ma said that of Taiwan's 70 universities, 39 offer courses taught in English. There is no university in Taiwan where all the courses are taught in English.
Ma noted that foreign students make up 1.3 per cent of the total number of university students in Taiwan and Taiwan wants to raise the percentage to 2.6 per cent in the next few years.
In the face of increased efforts by foreign universities to woo Taiwan students by offering attractive scholarships, Taiwan must take immediate action not only to keep is elite students at home but also to lure foreign and Chinese youths to study here, Ma said.Observe first, the President refers to Chinese students a couple of times. Taiwan colleges are also begging the government to let in students from China. A done deal? It bears all the earmarks of one.
He suggested that domestic universities develop "all English curriculums," as schools in Singapore, Hong Kong and European countries have been doing, to attract foreign students.
This will help solve the problem of low student numbers at some local universities, he said. Also, the entry of foreign and Chinese students to Taiwan universities will spur local students to study harder and will help to expand their global perspective, the president said.
I blogged last year on Taiwan universities and the drive for internationalization via English. The drive for foreign students is just another one of those moves to preserve up the current system in its present form by herding in more warm bodies rather than making the far reaching changes that would really be necessary to make the system competitive. And of course, there's another outcropping of the familiar internationalization = (more) English rather than internationalization = adoption of best practices from abroad. English, as so often in Taiwan, functions as a proxy for real internationalization.
It is true that the lack of English-language courses is a problem in attracting foreign students. I know of several cases of people who dropped out of programs when they found that there were few or no English-language courses, and many for whom the lack of such curricula is a barrier to application. I also know of cases where people have been refused admittance to programs because no courses were offered in English.
To really internationalize the system, pay would have to rocket up and foreign professors would have to become routine at all levels, as in the West. English would have to become widespread. But outside of the English departments and a few international MBA programs it is very difficult to be hired as a foreign professor, even if one could tolerate the "vow of poverty" as a friend of mine hired here once ruefully described Taiwan teacher pay. That gap in pay is the real reason Taiwan's best professors leave for work elsewhere. Nowhere does Ma address the problem that the pay levels of professors are determined centrally by the Ministry of Education -- which is the one thing he could address, theoretically at least, simply by giving the order.
There are somewhere around a million university students in Taiwan, as I recall seeing somewhere (can't seem to find a recent number on the net). If the current level of foreign students is actually 1.3%, then that is 13,000 warm bodies. If it is really true that by 2012 Taiwan's universities will be short 15,000 students, then it is intuitively obvious that another 13,000 foreigners would fill the gap. It is also intuitively obvious that by bringing in Chinese, the current system would not need to be changed, English would not need to be expanded, and everyone could keep their jobs. Hmmm.... wonder what they will choose.
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