The number of students from mainland China who will be allowed to study in Taiwan this year has been slashed, with implications particularly for Taiwan’s private universities which offer the majority of places available to students from mainland China.
Taiwan’s University Entrance Committee for Mainland Chinese Students said last Monday that mainland educational authorities had approved 1,000 mainland students to study for full-time undergraduate degree courses in Taiwan this year, down from 2,136 last year.
During the past academic year Taiwan had already seen a decline of university students from China coming for non-degree programmes of less than a year. After rising steadily in recent years, the numbers on short programmes fell from 34,114 in the 2015-16 academic year to 32,648 in the current year, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.
The Taiwan committee said one of the Chinese government's considerations in cutting numbers could be that in recent years China's higher education sector has suffered from a decline in student numbers due to the low birth rate.
However, Taiwan academics and Chinese students studying in Taiwan say tense cross-strait relations since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in May 2016 is the main reason.
Tsai is a member of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party which espouses formal independence from the Chinese mainland – which under its ‘one China’ policy regards Taiwan as a renegade province of China.
Dialogue between Beijing and Taipei was suspended after Tsai became president as she refused to endorse the ‘one China’ principle which Beijing has made a condition of all cross-straits talks.
Beijing also hindered tourism between the mainland and Taiwan, with group tours to Taiwan down 40% in the past year.
Private universities affected
The cut is not expected to have a big effect on Taiwan’s 50 publicly-funded universities, which each offer just five places for mainland students.
But the impact on some 100 private universities, which had looked to the mainland for students at a time of declining demographics in Taiwan, could be severe with a number of universities under threat of merger or closure.
Demographic decline has the greatest impact on undergraduate programmes, which are projected to see a 40% drop in domestic numbers by 2023.
“Some of the more popular private schools will tend to suffer more as these schools used to have more than 100 mainland students enrolled,” said Michael Chen, president of Shih Chien University, a private institution.
He said it would lead to financial losses for the universities. “If a university has 73 students from the mainland each paying NT$100,000 (US$3,300) tuition and other fees a year, it will bring in NT$29.2 million in revenue in four years before those students graduate,” Chen said.
Earlier this year a controversy erupted in Taiwan after some of its universities were found to have signed agreements on exchange students with mainland universities that agreed not to teach ‘sensitive’ subjects that criticise Beijing’s policies.
University leaders have also expressed a fear of further cuts in the number of mainland students being allowed to study in Taiwan, as Beijing attempts to put more pressure on the Tsai government. This will jeopardise Taipei’s aim to increase the number of foreign students from 28,000 now to 58,000 in the next three years.
Looking to ASEAN
But Yang Ming-ling, director general of international and cross-strait education at Taiwan’s Education Ministry, said the government has other plans in place.
“The government has earmarked NT$1 billion (US$33 million) for a project that includes luring talent and students from Southeast Asia and other Asian areas to work and study in Taiwan,” she was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying.
The island would offer scholarships and other incentives to recruit some 60,000 students from those countries by 2019, she said.
Of the amount mentioned, some US$14 million will be allocated for the next three years for initiatives for collaborations between universities and consortia with Southeast Asian countries, including for the teaching of Southeast Asian languages.
The ministry will also subsidise 10 universities next year to set up a presence in the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. And it is offering scholarships with tuition fee waivers and monthly stipends for students from ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations – countries.
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