Sunday, November 08, 2009

Boosting Competitiveness in Taiwan's Universities

DPA reports via Earth Times:
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.

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.
Taiwan News added some additional information:
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.

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.
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.

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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Anonymous said...

I'll go anonymous for this post, but I know at NCKU in Tainan the quality of the non-EFL courses taught in English is in no way 'world class' and barely competent. And yet they're being pushed to expand the number classes taught this way, to the the detriment of all involved.

Opinions from others?

David said...

Quality is better than quantity. This saying could be applied in several areas.

1. There is no point offering lots of English courses if the standard of the course is not good and the English level of the students is poor.

2. The low birth rate means that it is time to accept some universities need to be closed down. It is better to have students competing for places rather than a race to the bottom.

Anonymous said...

What are your recommendations? Taiwan actually has very little attractiveness to American students if it is an all-English curriculum.

vin said...

Genuine internationalization requires greater decentralization of education possibly even on the secondary-school level (certainly on the tertiary level) coupled with stringent outside accreditation. In other words, sweeping cultural change, with real change in the structure and administration of the education system as the stalking horse.

And none of that is up for discussion. So yes, once again internationalization is being equated with more English and a higher foreign-student headcount.


Arty said...

Look at what Singapore is doing? Do you know they have a Duke University there? It is almost sad that now China offers more money, and guess who is getting the talent. I think one of the top Chinese professors/scientists (tenure at states) is actually born in Taiwan.

It could be already too late for Taiwan anyway? Hate to say. Also, how do you know Ma is not doing this intentionally? Since according to you, he wants Taiwan to be annexed by China anyway. The sad thing is that DPP did nothing during its tenure and make a even bigger mass. GET RID OF SOME CRAPPY, NOT REALLY AN UNIVERSITY, UNIVERSITIES.

Carlos said...

I'm all for bringing Chinese students over. The more Chinese people see that Taiwan thinks of itself as independent already, the better. Exposure to Taiwan's political "chaos" will probably give them a better impression of it than they get in China. I don't really see the downsides.

Anonymous said...

China's graduate glut grows

By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING - Feng Danya studied foreign languages. She had hoped to be part of a growing local company and grow with them, she said. But her timing was wrong. She graduated in the summer of uncertainty for the global economy and many Chinese start-ups.

Anonymous said...

"It could be already too late for Taiwan anyway?"

How do you figure that? While the average of the universities might not be doing well, the top universities actually aren't doing bad, especially National Taiwan University. NTU has a strong, natural relationship with the UCs (University of California), but I agree that inviting a true top school--Stanford, Columbia, Harvard--is a very good strategy for quickly upgrading a top university and goading similar tier schools into competing and improving. Unfortunately Arty, that's a Green idea. Too smart and too controversial for the KMT to use.

"I'll go anonymous for this post, but I know at NCKU in Tainan the quality of the non-EFL courses taught in English is in no way 'world class' and barely competent."

Hi Fili.

les said...

Since Taiwan universities are not any better than those in China, why would the students want to come here?
Maybe, as in the developed world, they want to work to support themselves and/or find spouses and settle down legally, or stay on illegally.
As in Japan this will result in local unskilled and semi-skilled labor being marginalized, average salaries stagnating or even falling. The university profits but society as a whole sees a loss.
Well, the KMT plan does seem to be to reduce working class earnings in Taiwan to Chinese levels, either by depressing the salaries of locals or by importing Chinese labor. This is just the backdoor way of doing it.

Thomas said...

This seems like a haphazard approach to me. With a long-term perspective and the right focus, the government could create two or three new research institutes attached to local universities. The government would have to pay top-dollar to get premium instructors and researchers, and to bring in talented foreign students through scholarships. These small programmes could be taught in English and could focus on up and coming technologies, such as green technologies, or other hot fields. The point would be to open world-class English-language programs that people actually want to study at. This could have collateral benefits for the rest of the educational system.

Of course, this would take much planning and effort and money. And several local schools would still have to close. But Taiwan's educational system and research would benefit.

Heaven forbid that the government do the right thing for once.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks for the post on China's grad glut. Same problem as here.

Marc said...

First of all, to any posters who refer to Americans coming or not to Taiwan to study: this isn't about Americans, or any Brits, Canadians or New Zealanders or Australians.

What the government is trying to do is increase the influx of students from Southeast Asia, Central and South America and Africa--and perhaps to a lesser extent Eastern Europe, the Arab world, Central Asia and even Japan. The common language will need to be English, since most of these students cannot understand Chinese.

I can attest to this in my uni classes that suddenly have more exchange students than ever before -- from many of these above-mentioned destinations. As I teach in English a non-English department subject, I get a lot of students who want to be in my elective class because they can't follow anything comparable in Chinese.

So there is indeed an urgent need for English-language curricula and English-speaking faculty, if Taiwan wants to keeps its universities viable -- just as all other unis do.

(In parallel to this, BTW, is the drive to market Taiwan's state-of-the-art hospitals for medical tourism. I've talked to some admins at some hospitals about this, and it seems there's a desire to attract medical tourists from many of the same locations as the MOE is seeking students)

fvarga said...

To follow about the quality concern: most of the classes are optional.
If you teach regular classes (not language), and if you fail students, your classroom has a big chance to be almost empty the following semester, with all the consequences you can imagine.
So, what will professors do?
I guess you know the answer...
Keep walking (with your favorite drink)... still a long way :-)

Stefan said...

les - I don't see how Chinese students coming to Taiwan would create problems for blue-collar workers.

Presumably Taiwan wants them to pay for their degrees? So you wouldn't normally get people who are desperately poor. And they wouldn't want to settle for a life of an illegal immigrant, working menial jobs in Taiwan.

If Taiwan wants to pay for their studies the situation is different though... It would be insane to subsidize China in that way, but admittedly it does sound like something Ma might be doing.

Yves said...

About the Asia Times article: Yes a good analysis of an existing problem in all developed countries, but amplified in China. Because there, one of the very basic components of the Chinese family strategy, and thus of social stability, the 'social elevator' principle, is at stake. And, while the Chinese government has centuries of practice of mandarinate (i.e. creating a credible hierarchy of graduates),the levels of jobs and career opportunities, now depending largely on the private sector, don't follow. And AFAIK the case of Taiwan, I'm not sure Chinese society is able to produce huge, stable private conglomerates equivalent of Japanese 'zaibatsus' or Korean 'chaebols', able of providing employment opportunities in periods of crisis (though presenting such system as an ideal is questionable, it is largely in crisis now in Japan/Korea).

BTW I loved the last paragraph. Beware of the PLA's offensive... of charm!


les said...

Stefan - The experience in Japan especially should worry Taiwanese. There are hordes of Chinese students in Japan and they typically do not bring anything like enough money to support themselves there. The vast majority of them work illegally. This further marginalizes local students who find it harder to find part-time work to support themselves. Or they have to accept lower wages to compete with the illegals.
Those who have fallen out of the job-for-life system rely on multiple part-time jobs and are being squeezed out by the large numbers of Chinese illegal immigrants willing to do the same jobs for less money.

How does any of this benefit Japan? If Japan lacks the ability or will to tackle this problem then for sure Taiwan will fail to address this problem, and the part-time and unskilled workers of Taiwan will suffer for it.

Jim said...

Ma's failure to grasp the problem is neatly summed up with the phrase "Taiwan must take immediate keep its elite students at home..."

Taiwanese academia as a whole punches above its weight globally, and does so owing to a generation of senior professors who spent time at top universities abroad, and then came back. Those guys are either retired, or close to it.

Most of the current assistant and associate professors are comprised people who got their Bachelors, Masters and PhDs all in Taiwan, having never left the island except for the occasional conference. Some of the younger generation are bright and competent, but there is something missed when you have such large numbers of academics stuck in the Taiwan echo chamber, especially if your goal is to have international influence.

The focus should be on getting those "elite students" the hell out of Taiwan. Expose them to the intellectual rigor of "figure out your PhD topic on your own" and not the "hey kid, you're researching this" style so prevalent here. And then get them back to Taiwan with competitive pay, with something like China's Chiangjiang Scholar program.

But even if Taiwan stops treating professors like civil servants, it is hard to imagine, as mentioned above, that things would transition smoothly, if at all. Universities in China have had hiccups with salary differentials, but there's a "means justifies the end quality" that helps -- that end being China gaining global standing. There doesn't seem to be that same level of tolerance for being pushed out of one's comfort zone here.

Michael Turton said...

Les, great insight. Do you have some links to Japanese newspaper articles that might describe the issue?


les said...

I have family in Japan so info is first-hand, rather than researched.
Try these...

Anonymous said...

"Most of the current assistant and associate professors are comprised people who got their Bachelors, Masters and PhDs all in Taiwan, having never left the island except for the occasional conference."

Bullshit Jim. It is questionable whether you can even get a position at the top four universities unless you got your PhD in the US or National Taiwan University. The outlook for even American PhDs is, as in the US, not very good.

Sure, there are second, third, and fourth tier schools that may take you, but those schools didn't even exist when the wave of expatriates you are talking about first returned. Just because there are more professors doesn't mean that the quality of the top schools has declined. Though there are a lot of problems, it's the opposite and the top schools research is moving towards being internationally competitive with the top 100 US schools (and let's be honest--there are few good schools outside of the US).

Anonymous said...

I have found the quality at NTU generally very good. Not sure about the rest of the system.
The salaries are low compared to US universities, but they compare quite favourably with Europe once differences in the cost of living are taken into account. Big pay raises would need a lot more money from the government, or increases in tuition fees. The government doesn't have the money for the first, the second would be politically explosive.

Anonymous said...

Ming Chuan have all English taught courses through their International College. Problem there has been low quality students and teachers in the past, plus a poorly arranged curriculum - students having 30+ hours of classes gathered scatter gun fashion from across the faculties. Interestingly thought whilst Taiwan is equating internationalization with English MC is cutting back on its amount of English classes to non-language majors. Internal politics or something bigger?