In the first two-plus years of the New Southbound Policy, the number of students from the target countries enrolled in Taiwan’s colleges and universities increased by over one-third to reach 41,000. At the same time, more than 7,000 young Taiwanese per year head for the New Southbound countries either to take formal courses of study or to participate in internship programs, often with scholarships or stipends from the Taiwan government.
These “inbound” and “outbound” components are equally important to Taiwan’s goal of promoting the development of talent in the region, says Andrea Shu-ya Yang, a section chief in the Department of International and Cross-Strait Education at the Ministry of Education. With assistance from the inter-university Foundation for International Cooperation in Higher Education of Taiwan, the department is the agency in charge of the flagship Talent Development Program under the New Southbound Policy.
“The market is there,” says Yang. On the inbound side, “the New Southbound countries are growing fast and need the human resources – well-equipped, well-trained, well-educated people.” Taiwan, which has a surplus of space in its institutions of higher education, has the facilities and the programs to accommodate those students. And when the students graduate and return to their home countries, their bicultural experience may make them prime candidates for employment by Taiwanese companies investing in those markets.
Among the students coming to Taiwan are the more than 100 recipients each year of “elite scholarships” to beginning university instructors from the New Southbound region. The program enables them to complete doctoral programs in Taiwan tuition-free, notes Andy Cheu-An Bi, Director General of the Ministry of Education’s Department of International and Cross-Strait Education.
On the outbound side, Taiwanese studying or doing internships in the region are another source of future talent for this country’s enterprises as they seek to promote their business dealings with South and Southeast Asia.
“Since we have the market and a pipeline of students, the objective is to build up a platform to foster bilateral educational cooperation with the countries of the region,” says Yang. The pillar of that platform is the network of Taiwan Education Centers and Taiwan Connection Centers set up in the target countries, often housed within leading universities. The functions of the centers encompass recruiting students to study in Taiwan (including the holding of higher education fairs), arranging academic exchanges, and offering Chinese-language classes.
“We invite foreign scholars, university presidents, and government officials responsible for education policy to come to Taiwan, and we also send our delegations to visit,” says Yang. Last year bilateral forums were organized with four countries – India, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines – bringing university presidents together to discuss the role of higher education and how to meet the challenges to future employment opportunities posed by Industry 4.0.
The country sending the most students to Taiwan by far is Malaysia, accounting for nearly 43% of the total in the 2017-2018 academic year. Second was Vietnam with over 19% and third was Indonesia at 17%.
In preparation for the greater internationalization of the campuses, Taiwan has trained a corps of foreign student advisors. To accommodate Muslim students, universities have made prayer rooms and Halal food available. “Their culture, their religion, and their lifestyle may be quite different, so we have to get to know them better and make sure there are good channels of communication,” says Yang.
For the future, Director General Bi says that one aim is to increase the private sector’s engagement in the program through internships and work-study arrangements. Another, despite the lack of diplomatic relations with the cooperating countries, is to increase government-to-government contacts, for example by signing Memorandums of Understanding on cooperative efforts.