Lawmakers yesterday preliminarily approved the mutual recognition of tertiary-level qualifications with the Holy See, the first official agreement between Taiwan and its only ally in Europe in their 70-year relationship.
The agreement in the field of higher education and on the recognition of studies, qualifications, diplomas and degrees between the Vatican and the Republic of China, signed in December last year, is pending approval in the plenary session before it can take effect.
With the agreement in place, Taiwan recognizes 156 Catholic universities, as well as other Catholic higher-education institutions and ecclesiastical universities and faculties associated with the Holy See in 25 countries, while the Vatican acknowledges higher-education academic credentials issued by local colleges and universities accredited by the Ministry of Education.
Lawmakers across party lines were by and large in support of ratifying the agreement when it was reviewed at a meeting of a joint legislative committee attended by officials from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers had concerns over the frequently circulating rumors that the Holy See has been seeking to sever relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuo-yu (董國猷) said the likelihood of the Vatican switching its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in the near future was low, mainly because China is not a country that respects religious freedom.
The agreement was signed by officials of both sides, Tung said.
“The Vatican would not have bothered to sign the agreement with Taiwan if it considered its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan unstable,” Tung said.
Some DPP lawmakers raised concerns about local theological colleges and seminaries having difficulties getting accreditation from the Ministry of Education.
DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) demanded that Deputy Minister of Education Lin Tsong-ming (林聰明) explain continuing delays in approving applications for accreditation filed by many local theological colleges and seminaries."A majority of local theological colleges and seminaries are widely recognized in overseas countries, but not domestically,” Tsai said. “It is ironic that many Taiwanese who graduate from local theological colleges and seminaries earn master or doctorate degrees in foreign countries, but their undergraduate credentials are not recognized by the Taiwanese authority.”
In response, Lin said it hinges on the “willingness” of educational institutions to apply for accreditation or not, because “not all of them have filed applications.”
Lin added that some applicants are still under review for eligibility requirements in terms of faculties, facilities, funds and library services.
Dissatisfied with Lin’s reply, the joint committee approved a resolution, initiated by DPP lawmakers, demanding that the Ministry of Education review the appropriateness of the requirements and actively assist applicants in fulfilling the standards.