As Taiwan strives to attract more international students, yet another embarrassing incident of mistreatment came to light this week. The incident, involving students from Uganda, is yet another blemish on the nation’s human rights record, which is otherwise progressive.
Online media firm The Reporter wrote in an investigative report that Ugandan students at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology in Changhua County’s Yuanlin City (員林) were denied promised scholarships and forced to work overnight factory shifts after they had been promised “paid internship opportunities.”
There were also few classes in English compared with what was advertised, students said.
Like many migrant workers from Southeast Asia in Taiwan, such students are commonly saddled with heavy debts after a short time in Taiwan. Moving here is a serious and costly investment for them, which makes The Reporter’s account even more heartbreaking.
The media firm created a comic based on an interview with a foreign student identified only as Collines, who did not move to Taiwan arbitrarily or because of scholarships, but because he hoped his own nation could emulate Taiwan’s success. Instead, he and his classmates faced a hellish scenario, saying that they were overworked, barely had enough money to eat, learned nothing in class and fell into debt.
Like many migrant workers, they could not quit and go home because of the debt.
While the Ministry of Education has barred Chung Chou University from accepting international students, it did not accept any responsibility and showed no remorse.
“There was a major difference in understanding between foreign students and school administration,” it said.
This is a shame not only on a human rights level, but because it continues to undermine the government’s efforts to boost Taiwan’s foreign student population — such as the ministry’s four-year, NT$500 million (US$18.06 million) plan announced last year to recruit African students — as the nation’s birthrate plummets.
Were such students to enjoy their time in Taiwan, they would be more inclined to stay and help in fields related to their expertise, which is needed as the labor force shrinks. If they were to return home, there would be programs funding them to establish undergraduate programs in fields in which Taiwan has a leading position.
However, people like Collines will go back and tell others not to bother with Taiwan.
The Reporter’s account is the latest in a string of such incidents over the past few years. In 2018, there were reports that Sri Lankan students were being forced to work in slaughterhouses and factories. More instances of universities working with employment agencies to trick foreign students into becoming a source of cheap labor came to light the following year.
The education providers are punished, but the problem of student shortages is worsening, providing more opportunities for unscrupulous brokers.
These problems need to be looked at comprehensively, not just to prevent exploitation, but to ensure that foreign students actually receive high-quality education.
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