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Ma hopes for more foreign students in Taiwan

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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2015 9:18 am    Post subject: Ma hopes for more foreign students in Taiwan Reply with quote

Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, expressed hope Friday that the number of foreign students in Taiwan would surpass the 100,000 mark next year, noting the growing number of such students in the country over the past seven years.

After taking office in May 2008, Ma said, he felt the need to make Taiwan a hub for higher education in the Asia-Pacific region, which would help Taiwanese students to develop a global perspective through interaction with international students without having to go abroad.

Over the past few years, the number of students from mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong and various other foreign countries has been on the rise, Ma said during a speech at a farewell party for Taiwan Fellowships and Scholarships program students, who will soon return to their home countries after finishing their studies in Taiwan.

According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Education, there were 30,509 foreign students including Chinese students (Hong Kong and Macau included) studying in Taiwan in 2007, a number that had risen to 92,685 in 2014.

Ma expressed hope that the number will hit 110,000 next year, when he will step down after finishing his second term.

He also said he expects Taiwan to become the world's center for Mandarin Chinese education which teaches both traditional Chinese characters (used in Taiwan and Hong Kong) and simplified Chinese (used in China).

During his speech, the president also said he was pleased to learn that many people have become high-ranking government officials or have secured promising jobs in their home countries after studying in Taiwan.

Citing as an example a visit he made to the Solomon Islands in 2010, Ma said that the Pacific island country's agriculture minister at the time was a graduate of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in southern Taiwan.

"Today is the end of your studies, but it's also the starting point of a new relationship between you and the Republic of China," Ma said, adding his hope that the students will stay in contact with each other and visit Taiwan in the future.

"Taiwan is always your second home, and I know some of you have seen it as your home," he said.

Established in 2004, the Taiwan Fellowships and Scholarships program is a government initiative aimed at promoting research, educational links and friendship between Taiwan and the international community.

The program comprises three categories: fellowships for research, Mandarin enrichment scholarships, and scholarships for degrees. About 1,200 grants are offered each year for undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as researchers from around the world to study or conduct advanced research in Taiwan.

The tone of this article is really desperate. As we know Taiwan has a dangerously low birth rate and an ageing population which is putting it on a collision course with economic chaos. Ma's call for the number of international students to pass 100,000 is of course just a "hope". Most international students that are studying in Taiwan are from the 22 countries that currently recognize Taiwan as a country. The MOE and individual universities scattered across the island award students from these countries scholarships as part of Taiwan's ongoing policy of checkbook diplomacy. The truth is that students from these mostly African and South American countries would not have the funds(or interest) to go to Taiwan if they were not offered the scholarships. Many have their sights on studying in the First World where degrees are quite rightly perceived as having more market value. A degree from Taiwan might mean something in Taiwan(or the Solomon Islands) but wouldn't cut the mustard in the developed world. But beggars can't be choosers, right?

When Ma says that Taiwan is the "second home" of many international students the article becomes farcical. As noted above, most international students are there because they have few choices in life. Whether they are happy there or not is indeed questionable. Taiwan is small and claustrophobic and hardly international. There have been many complaints about teaching methods and learning styles that are hard for many international students to adapt to in a Taiwanese classroom. And outside of school there are lots of challenges such as the high levels of air pollution in the cities, the lack of hygiene in eateries and the general xenophobia which comes with living in a monoculture.

Much of what is said by President Ma and reported in the media in Taiwan should be taken as spin. The truth is that Taiwan's falling birth rate has fallen to such a low level that the only way out of the looming crisis in education is a desperate hope to get more international students. Ma should look to the past to see how desperate this measure is because the country has already attempted to advertise its schools to the Chinese, who of course have more money and more choices and have opted to study in Europe, North America and Australasia. For them, Taiwan is a small province located on the edge of the Chinese empire. Why on earth would they want to study there when there are better options available?

* The 22 countries that recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China (ROC) are: Belize, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland and Tuvalu.
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