Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Strategic thinking for universities

By Peter G.Osborne

Taiwanese universities are developing strategies to cope with an imminent crisis.

Government figures show that in 2008, 97 percent of Taiwanese who wanted to pursue higher education were accepted by Taiwanese universities. So currently, just about everybody who wants to go to university can do so. However, the population demographics of Taiwan are such that over the next 10 years the absolute number of potential university students will decrease. This gradual decrease in students will eventually lead to the closure or restructuring of some of the less popular universities.

To counterbalance this projected decrease in Taiwanese student numbers, many universities are attempting to comply with ministerial objectives to internationalize universities by intensifying their efforts to attract international students to fill the soon to be vacant seats in the lecture theaters.

University recruiting delegations head off in droves to countries with Chinese-speaking communities such as Indonesia and Malaysia, and ultimately China, to attend education fairs designed to win the heads, hearts and purses of foreign students with stories of the dynamic international education to be gained from study at Taiwanese universities.

However, is this the best strategy for Taiwanese universities to pursue en mass?

Is this even a remotely sensible strategy for rural universities to be investing in?

Let us be realistic and put national pride temporarily to one side; we can bring it back into the equation a little further along. Do Taiwanese universities deliver a world class education that would attract international students? Only four Taiwanese universities are ranked in the top 200 in the world. Therefore, it is likely that the majority of the 78 Taiwanese universities are not going to see many of the academically motivated international students.

Are Taiwanese academic qualifications accredited in other countries? No, not without extensive retesting.

Will these recruiting efforts convince non-Mandarin-speaking students to attend Taiwanese universities? No, only a few universities have courses taught in English and many universities don’t offer Mandarin language training courses.

When I question the Taiwanese students that attend the university where I teach, undergraduates tell me they came to this university because they were rejected by their first choice of university and because the tuition fees are cheap. After this, we have reasons like the air is good and the scenery pretty. So, if upper-mid-ranking rural Taiwanese universities are not the first choice of Taiwanese students, is it a credible strategy for the administration of these same universities to focus on recruiting foreign students to make up some of the anticipated enrollment shortfall?

Perhaps rural universities should not be focusing on providing more of the same education. Perhaps they need to re-invigorate the education they provide so that Taiwanese students will want to attend because the education that is provided has world-class value.

Sadly, education is no longer valued for itself, but has become a commodity. So, in this vein of logic, ask yourself what does Taiwan have access to that the economies of the world crave? Like it or not, the answer is simple — cultural and geographic proximity to Chinese-speaking China. For a short period of time, Taiwan has the potential to become a conduit for Western economies and scholarship to access China. However, if Taiwanese rural universities are to effectively exploit this opportunity they need to develop a truly bilingual English-Chinese hybrid education.

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