From the perspective of a foreign-born and educated, English-speaking scientist, university education and research as practiced by some Taiwanese national universities is a funny thing. Perhaps funny is not the most accurate word; a mixture of reactionary, hypocritical and rigid is a better description. I don’t think there is a single word that adequately conveys the sentiment. Funny, odd and peculiar are polite euphemisms.
As I sit in my office preparing questions for my students’ final exams, I can hear the clamor and bubble of celebration as students bedecked in black gowns lined with ribbons of color and sporting mortar-boards attend graduation ceremonies, and yet graduation depends on passing exams that many of these students have not yet sat or passed. Now that strikes me as a little funny.
I see that master of science and doctoral students must author research papers as a prerequisite to graduate, but the number of students who graduate exceeds the number of authorships. Now that’s also a little odd.
In the courtyards I can see generic signs saying how a university education is a marvelous thing and how truly international the education provided by universities is. I can see the signs that imply that providing courses in English is a marker of just how international this education is. And yet I know first-hand that a great many students and professors alike avoid English-language conversations and lectures whenever possible. And I know the surest way to have an e-mail ignored is to send it in English. Now that’s a peculiar legacy of internationalism.
I attend staff meetings where diligent student representatives listen to long bureaucratic discussions in Chinese by Taiwanese academics who make rules stipulating that students must use English in the classroom. Where are the role models for linguistic internationalization in this environment ?
At meetings I see the knitted brow of the rare foreign guest professor or even rarer foreign employee who listens on uncomprehendingly, unable to advance any opinions based upon alternative experiences garnered from overseas, because of the reluctance of staff to use a language touted as the cornerstone of internationalism. Isn’t that wasteful of the resources spent to bring this professional to Taiwan?
I see that universities run Chinese language courses as components of high-profile university exchange programs with sister cities in far corners of the world, but I also see that foreign research workers and graduate students already working at national universities in Taiwan cannot get time off to attend these showpiece Chinese language classes, or any university-sponsored Chinese classes.
Isn’t it unrealistic to expect internationalism to spread in both directions if foreigners who are already on Taiwanese campuses are kept mute?
At meetings I see some foreign professors proficient in Chinese, English and their subject of expertise who perform the same job with equal competency as their Taiwanese counterparts, yet these same foreign professors are not legally entitled to the pensions their Taiwanese colleagues are, despite making equal contributions to government taxes, health and pension schemes. Where is the internationalism in exploiting a worker based upon their nationality?
I see foreign guest research scientists who cannot utilize their research expertise because they are ineligible to submit independent research applications to the National Science Council. Personalities allowing, guest foreign research scientists and professors can join established Taiwanese research groups to do “more of the same” kinds of research, but they cannot even apply for support to do something new or different unless they can convince a permanent employee of a university to apply for them by proxy. Doesn’t this absolute fettering of ideas seem like a peculiar way to promote internationalism of research?