According to media reports, National Chengchi University (NCCU) has decided that lecturers hired next semester will be required to offer two English-language-taught courses every school year. This has drawn mixed reactions.
NCCU is not the first university to make this demand and if society cannot discern the essence of internationalization, it will not be the last to do so either. The problem arises because the nation has equated English-language learning with internationalization.
Taiwan’s higher-education facilities began promoting internationalization about 15 years ago and universities set up offices of international affairs. With financial support from the Ministry of Education, universities 10 years ago jointly set up the Foundation for International Cooperation In Higher Education of Taiwan to encourage foreign students to study in Taiwan.
Why should Taiwan want to attract foreign students? The reasons are many. For example, diplomacy through education is less likely to be subjected to intervention by international politics; the number of foreign students and the spectrum of nationalities play a role in university rankings; Taiwan wants to develop an influential network in other nations; foreign students can make up for an insufficient number of domestic students due to a falling birthrate; and, more importantly, Taiwan wants its young people to get in touch with the world and be “internationalized.”
In the ministry’s indicators for evaluating the internationalization of institutions of higher education, the number of English programs and English-taught courses are important categories. Ming Chuan University and Tamkang University have established colleges of international studies, while National Taiwan University plans to follow suit. By employing lecturers fluent in foreign languages, they hope to appeal to more overseas students. Everything, including facilities and lecturers, is in readiness, except one finishing touch. How does that finishing touch come about?
A new book on higher education by Way Kuo (郭位), president of City University of Hong Kong, provides food for thought on Taiwan’s higher education, especially regarding internationalization. Kuo was born and raised in Taiwan. After graduating from university, he completed a master’s degree and a doctorate in the US, where he taught and researched for 34 years. Seven years ago, he was hired by City University. He was also a senior member of Academia Sinica.
He coined a new term, “soulware,” which refers to a type of culture, mentality, behavior and thinking pattern. In Kuo’s opinion, the lack of soulware is one of the reasons higher education in Taiwan and China lags behind other developed nations.
If internationalization only means hiring fluent English speakers to teach in universities, without integrating teaching and research, will the courses be attractive enough to appeal to brilliant overseas students?
Without advanced and forward-looking research labs, outstanding graduate foreign students will not be interested in studying in Taiwan. Teaching and research must, of course, be integrated. As for undergraduate students, both English-language and Chinese-language taught courses could be provided in the first and second years, while Chinese-taught courses should be a requirement for overseas students in their third and fourth years. Chinese has become a future world language, and it will attract foreign students.
English-language courses should not be offered randomly. The needs of foreign students from various regions should be taken into account to design a logical and systematic curriculum. For instance, business management and civil engineering are of interest to Southeast Asian students; public health and agriculture are important subjects to African students; social studies, law and literature are of interest to students from Japan, South Korea, Europe and the US.
Some courses do not even have to be taught in English, as one of the purposes of studying in Taiwan is to learn Taiwanese culture and the language. They are the soulware that Taiwan can utilize to facilitate internationalization.
If the nation sets goals and devises plans without understanding its advantages and only builds beautiful facilities, establishes a system and hires personnel in the hope that this will achieve internationalization, it is hoping for the impossible.
Internationalization is not the same as using English. Only by creating content-rich and confident soulware and understanding the cultural advantages of Taiwan and other countries, as well as changing mentalities, habits and thought patterns, can the nation begin to truly internationalize itself.
Yuan Hsiao-wei is a professor in the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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