The often rancorous dispute about Taiwan's relationship with China spilled over into higher education yesterday, as a media frenzy over a student's choice of university sparked agitated hand-wringing among officials.
The issue at stake was whether Taiwan should recognize university degrees from China.
A series of sensational stories in the Chinese-language print and electronic media explained how Helen Kuo (郭沛礽), who had attended high school in China as the daughter of a Taiwanese businessman, had met with difficulties in choosing a university three years ago. Kuo is now a senior in university.
The stories appeared after Kuo was contacted by reporters from the Chinese-language media, although it was not immediately clear how or why the media had suddenly decided to take an interest in her story.
The stories alleged that Kuo had believed that her high-school diploma obtained in China was invalid in Taiwan. Kuo said that she had graduated from the Xiamen International School in China.
Some media reports said that Kuo had been accepted to Harvard University after high school -- which she confirmed -- but had been unable to attend due to financial difficulties. The Central News Agency even claimed that she had attended Harvard Law School after high school -- a claim she denied, and which seems unlikely in any case, as a law-school candidate is usually required to have at least a Bachelor's degree.
But the various stories and Kuo agreed on one thing: At some point, Kuo decided to return to Taiwan to attend university.
NOT ENOUGH HECTARES
Kuo chose to go to Christ's College (CC), an institution that is not accredited by the Ministry of Education (MOE) because of various obscure regulatory requirements, such as having only 3.2 hectares of property, rather than the required 5 hectares.
Currently, CC is registered as a "religious school" under the Ministry of the Interior, instead of with the MOE.
The media stories asserted that Kuo had been forced to choose an unaccredited institution because her Chinese diploma was invalid, and therefore she was unable to take the entrance examinations.
Kuo confirmed that she had been confused about the government regulations, but also admitted that she wanted to avoid taking the entrance exams because she was concerned about her performance, having been educated in a different school system.
In what is best described as something of a stretch, politicians then made a connection between the media circus and the government's policy of refusing to accept higher education degrees from China -- although that policy clearly had no impact on Kuo's case.
Nevertheless, these obvious discrepancies did not stop commentators from rushing to defend or attack the government's policy. Meanwhile, officials hastened to clarify the applicable policies.
MOE officials explained yesterday that Taiwan does in fact re-cognize Chinese diplomas obtained from high schools.
After verifying the diploma with the Straits Exchange Foundation, a student is able to apply for a certificate of proof with local education departments in Taiwan, and thus able to participate in college entrance exams, officials said.
The officials said Kuo may have misunderstood ministry regulations, and therefore did not try to apply for a certificate of proof in the country to enroll in entrance exams, officials added.