As the Ministry of Education and the pan-blue camp wrangle over wording in textbooks, President Chen Shui-bian (
Taiwan has much to gain by reversing this policy.
Fear that exposure to Chinese education and students will corrupt Taiwanese students' minds is a driving force behind the policy. But if the Taiwanese education system is turning out such feeble-minded adults susceptible to Chinese propaganda, then it has only itself to blame. Education should be about opening minds and exposing students to different ideas -- even ideas government officials may not agree with. Sheltering Taiwanese students from certain ideas smacks of Chinese censorship.
Chinese students may influence Taiwan, but certainly not as much as Taiwan will influence them. Every year the ministry gives out thousands of scholarships to students from around the world in the hope that they will become advocates for Taiwan after they return to their countries. Is it difficult to imagine that some Chinese students, having seen what a progressive, liberal society is like, would go back and not demand the same.
Chen's rationale for refusing Chinese diplomas is also irrational. He worries that because it is so easy and cheap to get a Chinese diploma, Taiwan will soon be flooded with PhDs from disreputable Chinese institutions. Hence, having an advanced degree would no longer mean anything, and Taiwanese professors would find themselves out of work.
However, China does not hold a monopoly on dodgy diplomas. A great number of the degrees offered in the US, the holy grail of education for many Taiwanese students, are nothing more than cash-cow programs in soft subjects aimed at foreign students.
A degree is not automatically good because it is from the US or bad because it is from China. Rather, the government should encourage employers and universities to ascertain academic credentials. Businesses that do not bother to thoroughly evaluate who they are hiring will suffer from the frauds who walk through the door. Higher education must to some extent also abide by the rules of free-market capitalism.
Chinese degrees are not automatically rejected in other parts of the world. Chen's policy assures that students who can't afford an expensive Taiwanese degree, or simply want to go abroad and experience education in China, can't come back to work in Taiwan. As the Cabinet's Council for Economic Planning and Development debates how to attract skilled foreigners, Taiwan will contribute to its own brain drain by forcing students educated in China to find work elsewhere.
Taiwan has an interest in making sure that its ties with China are carefully regulated. But education is one area that should be more open. Chen's argument that letting in a trickle of students will inevitably end in a deluge is a pathetic excuse for the government's inability to efficiently regulate educational exchanges. And while the government must take security into account, paranoia over such issues should not outweigh the possible benefits of students on each side of the Strait contributing to more civil exchanges and understanding.
Who knows, Chinese students might even return home and tell their friends that Taiwan is a much different place than the Chinese media make it out to be.