In this year’s QS World University Rankings, 82nd-ranked NTU was the nation’s only university in the top 100 and was positioned well below two Chinese schools (Peking University at 46 and Tsinghua University at 48), two universities in Singapore and three in Hong Kong.
Yang was undeterred by the rankings, which he said was a “reference to encourage us to do better.”
“They [Chinese schools] have a lot of resources. That is true, but if you look at the caliber of our students and our more open environment, we really have a lot of niches,” Yang said, citing one of his initiatives to put courses related to ethnic Chinese societies and culture (with English subtitles) online.
“After we did that, many Chinese nationals started taking the courses because we are more open. There are many things we can discuss that they may not be able to,” he said.
This is why Yang is so convinced that the right path for NTU and other Taiwanese universities is to remember what they are good at even as they go global.
“You have to internationalize. It is a road you have to take, but you also have to know your strengths. If you forget your strengths, all you will do is follow. You won’t have any creativity, and you won’t be able to solve your own problems,” he said.
Yang has made reforming the curriculum a starting point for strengthening the competitiveness of the school and its students, through several initiatives that include adopting a more flexible credit system and introducing online courses from renowned universities.
Closer links are also being set up with the private sector to give graduate students a chance to work in research and development departments of local companies, and more seamlessly transfer knowledge into productive areas.
Yang hopes to build more cross-border partnerships similar to those that already exist with Intel, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and French research institute CNRS.
However, if there is a common thread that stands out in Yang’s new approach, it is his emphasis on the school’s social responsibility, whether as a leader of the education community or as a contributor to society through its students. He has expanded the school’s scholarship program to ensure that all qualified students, no matter how poor, can study at the university, and he is determined to instill a greater social conscience in students.
“We have positioned ourselves as a research-intensive university, but what is most important beyond research is students’ core competencies and having the abilities, social values and desire to contribute to society after they graduate to move society forward,” Yang said, citing this as his main motivation to take the job.
Additional reporting by staff writer