Is China squeez­ing stu­dents out of Tai­wan?

Tai­wan’s grow­ing diplo­matic iso­la­tion could harm uni­ver­si­ties, schol­ars say. El­lie Both­well re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Uni­ver­si­ties in Tai­wan could strug­gle to at­tract in­ter­na­tional stu­dents out­side South­east Asia as the na­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly iso­lated amid grow­ing ten­sions with China, an aca­demic has warned.

Fig­ures from Tai­wan’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion show that the num­ber of stu­dents from main­land China in Tai­wan de­clined by 16 per cent be­tween 2016 and 2017 to 35,300. Last year, China halved the num­ber of stu­dents al­lowed to study in Tai­wan, as a re­sult of sour­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions.

While the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from other lead­ing send­ing coun­tries, such as Malaysia, Ja­pan, Viet­nam and In­done­sia all in­creased dur­ing that pe­riod – partly as a re­sult of Tai­wan’s 2016 “New South­bound Pol­icy” aimed at build­ing bi­lat­eral links with South and South­east Asian coun­tries – num­bers from the US also dropped, by 5 per cent. The US is the ninth largest send­ing coun­try, with 3,814 US stu­dents go­ing to Tai­wan in 2017.

Yuan-Chih Fu, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Na­tional Chung Cheng Uni- ver­sity, said that many over­seas stu­dents are at­tracted to Tai­wan be­cause it is a “quiet, safe place” and its geo­graphic prox­im­ity to China “gives these in­ter­na­tional stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore China while keep­ing Tai­wan as their tem­po­rary home”. It also gives them ac­cess to the Chi­nese job market af­ter their stud­ies, he said.

Mean­while, Tai­wan recog­nises that at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant be­cause of its de­clin­ing birth rate.

How­ever, Dr Fu said that the num­ber of prospec­tive stu­dents from Western coun­tries who want to pur­sue a de­gree in Tai­wan could de­crease in fu­ture years, as ten­sions be­tween China and Tai­wan give the mes­sage that “Tai­wan does not want to be a bridge­head for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents who see China as their fu­ture market”. He claimed that such stu­dents may be more in­clined to study in China in­stead.

Chia- Ming Hsueh, as­sis­tant re­search pro­fes­sor at Na­tional Cheng Kung Univer­sity, added that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment “tries ev­ery means” pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, to “iso­late Tai­wan” – a strat­egy that has seen suc­cess in re­cent months.

In May, the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic and Burk­ina Faso broke ties with Tai­wan and re-es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with China, leav­ing Tai­wan with just one African ally, Swazi­land. El Sal­vador also sev­ered re­la­tions with Tai­wan in Au­gust, mean­ing that just 17 na­tions of­fi­cially recog­nise the Tai­wanese gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, Dr Hsueh said that “the de­ci­sion to study abroad is quite a per­sonal choice” and there­fore “it is hard to be changed or af­fected by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment”.

“Sim­i­larly, [when it comes to] scholar ex­change and re­search co­op­er­a­tion, al­though we are fac­ing some ob­sta­cles in col­lab­o­rat­ing with Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties and schol­ars, the co­op­er­a­tion with schol­ars in other coun­tries is con­tin­u­ing,” he said. “Es­pe­cially, sup­ported by the Tai­wanese gov­ern­ment, co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Tai­wan and South and South­east Asian coun­tries will be in­creas­ing in the fu­ture.”

Bi-Yu Chang, deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre of Tai­wan Stud­ies at Soas, Univer­sity of Lon­don, agreed that “China has al­ways tried to iso- late Tai­wan’s in­ter­na­tional pres­ence, in­flu­ence how Tai­wan is named within in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions and urge other coun­tries to ex­clude Tai­wan from par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­i­ties and col­lab­o­ra­tion”.

“The sit­u­a­tion is more ap­par­ent and se­ri­ous now be­cause the more as­sertive China is us­ing its sharp power – both its po­lit­i­cal weight and eco­nomic clout – to squeeze Tai­wan’s al­ready lim­ited in­ter­na­tional space,” she said.

How­ever, Dr Chang also ques­tioned whether China would be able to pres­surise demo­cratic coun­tries into mak­ing it harder for their cit­i­zens to study and con­duct re­search in Tai­wan.

“It is clear that both sides across the Tai­wan Strait are com­pet­ing and try­ing to foster China stud­ies and Tai­wan stud­ies re­spec­tively. How­ever, one of the cru­cial at­trac­tions for aca­demics to do re­search in an­other coun­try is the re­search en­vi­ron­ment, from the rich­ness and open­ness of var­i­ous archives to the free­dom of car­ry­ing out field­work and get­ting hold of ma­te­ri­als. So, peo­ple will make their own de­ci­sion,” she said.

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