Scholars doubtful of Taiwan’s international student target

In departure from previous small-scale efforts, initiative seeks to retain thousands of students for work after graduation

September 26, 2023
Two people in front of empty seating in Taiwan to illustrate Scholars doubtful of Taiwan’s international student target
Source: Getty images

Researchers have expressed scepticism about an ambitious plan by Taiwanese policymakers to drive up much-needed international talent and help insulate universities against population decline.

The proposal earmarks NT$5.2 billion (£132 million) to attract to the island 320,000 overseas learners in critical skills areas – including science and technology fields such as semiconductors – by 2030, with 210,000 of them expected to stay on for employment after graduation.

Notably, the initiative envisages 10 regional student recruitment centres, in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Industry is also expected to play a sizeable role: according to reports, businesses would pay a monthly stipend of NT$10,000 for students on two-year degree courses.

While scholars broadly supported policymakers’ aims, they expressed misgivings over the sector’s readiness to put in place required infrastructure before 2030, citing as chief obstacles universities’ ability to offer courses taught in English and stiff competition from the world’s most popular student destinations.

“The non-English environment and the government’s ability to sustain and uphold such a policy in a vigorous way remain doubtful,” said Kwei-Bo Huang, director of the Center for Global and Regional Risk Assessment at National Chengchi University College of International Affairs.

The island must contend with its “relatively inferior position in terms of competing for international talents with other advanced economies” due in part to cross-Strait tensions and relatively low wages, he said.

Yu-Hua Chen, assistant professor in China studies at Japan’s Akita International University, said he was most worried about the language issue.

“The primary challenge of this policy might not lie in whether the incentives are enticing enough for foreign students, but rather in whether Taiwanese universities are adequately prepared for a whole English education environment,” he said.

In 2017, Taiwan’s government introduced its Bilingual 2030 policy, designed to formalise English as a second language in schools and boost Taiwan’s global competitiveness in the long term.

Currently, only four national universities in Taiwan – National Taiwan University (NTU), National Taiwan Normal University, National Sun Yat-Sen University and National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) – have made significant strides towards embedding English-language courses across their departments, Dr Chen said.

“There have been instances where certain private universities have not fully delivered on their commitments to provide English-taught courses and work contracts to foreign students,” Dr Chen warned.

Sheng-Ju Chan, dean for student affairs and a professor at the Graduate Institute of Education at National Chung Cheng University, noted that the envisaged change differed greatly in ambition from previous “small-scale” efforts.

He said he worried that corporations might not be willing or able to pay monthly stipends for students – and that, for their part, overseas students might not be “up to the expectation of these local companies” in high-technology fields.

Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist who teaches Taiwan studies at the Australian National University, noted that the programme sought to accomplish a lot in the two to four years – depending on degree course – that students stay in Taiwan.

“They need to study their majors, study the Chinese language, possibly polish their English…and some have to pursue internships or side gigs at the same time for experience or income,” he said.

He said he feared that these overlapping goals would prove difficult to juggle, leading to disappointment after graduation. “It’s not hard to see that, when job-hunting season comes, a significant share of them might not have the requisite Chinese language skills to work in team settings,” he said.

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