Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cross-strait educational exchanges increase in a globalized world

According to the Global View monthly, the international community estimates that by 2020 China will have more than a dozen universities ranked among the world's top one hundred. And, since China is the largest emerging market in the world, many Taiwanese college students are heading to Chinese colleges to get a good education in preparation for their future career.

According to the Chinese government, there are 6,755 Taiwanese students studying at 187 universities in China. This accounts for 2.2 percent of the total students who registered to take Taiwan’s annual university examination, representing 22 out of every 1,000 high school graduates in Taiwan.

Main reasons to study in China

In the magazine’s questionnaire, those who studied in Chinese schools are not attracted by academic performance, but rather, by the desire to further understand China and to build a network for their future development in China. As an example, 51.8 percent wanted to have the experience of living and learning in China. The students expressed a desire to build personal connections that would help them enter and understand China’s markets.

In planning a future career, Taiwanese students are more flexible. After graduation, more than 25 percent preferred to work in China, 17.3 percent wanted to work in Taiwan; another 17.3 percent would continue to study in China, while 10.8 percent planned to pursue studies in other countries. From this part of the survey, Global View found about a quarter of the Taiwanese students considered studying in China as pre-training for their future career.

For Chinese students studying in Taiwan, 88.7 percent come hoping to experience life on the island. While, 37.2 percent believe that Taiwan offers high quality curriculums and teachers. The percentage of Chinese students looking to build personal connections and pursue further study and work in Taiwan are much fewer. In Commonwealth magazine’s report of across-strait student exchanges, they interviewed Angel He, the first Taiwanese student to enter a mainland university based on her Taiwanese scholastic exam scores. Since 2009, the Chinese educational system has recognized these test scores. Instead of going to National Taiwan University (NTU), she decided to enter the eight-year doctoral program in the clinical medicine department of Shanghai’s Fudan University, joining the 6 million new students from within China.

He is not sure that her decision was the right one, so she still maintains her registration at NTU. She knows it is adventurous to go to Fudan University, but just in case, she keeps the option of withdrawing open.

Competition is the biggest pressure

In Global View’s interviews with about 20 Taiwanese students studying in China, they also found it more competitive. One student said, “The days of being able to just grab an easy diploma in China are gone. The Chinese are all smart elites under the one-child policy. They all work hard. If you are absentminded for just a second, you’ll find yourself falling far behind them. Taiwanese have to develop stronger perseverance, broader views, earn double degrees, and even win more connections on campus.”

In the survey, what bothers Taiwanese students most in China was not just the difference in culture and ideology, but also the high requirements for admission to universities and the Chinese students’ competitiveness. These are the biggest pressures for the young Taiwanese.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, Wang Dan, one of the former Chinese pro-democracy student leaders at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and a former visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, had this observation. "In the mainland, the only way to get out of poverty or get a good job for people in rural or remote areas is to study at college. But in the relatively well-off Taiwan, the incentive for higher education is far less strong than in the mainland. Thus, Taiwanese students do not study as hard as those from the mainland.”

Wang Dan said that the democratization of China lags far behind that of Taiwan. For Chinese students, political issues are still a taboo. They have much less knowledge in this regard than that of the Taiwanese. Chinese students who come to study in Taiwan will inevitably face an ideological shock.

He added, “Taiwan is a very modern society, and young Taiwanese students living in this affluent environment are simpler. They are more humane, sympathetic, and lack the psychological guard against others, while Chinese students, relatively speaking, are more serious and tend to be more concerned about their daily survival and reality issues. Due to intense competition, the Chinese students do not easily develop interpersonal relationships, but rather a sense of self-protection, which is not apparently found in the Taiwanese students."

A sharp rise in numbers

Between 1985 and 2000, only 3,759 Taiwanese studied in China. In the seven years that followed, that number rose to more than 11,000, with half studying Chinese medicine. Aside from those in China studying for formal degrees, another 10,000 university students have gone there for short-term exchange programs in the past five years.

There are currently 233 Taiwanese students studying at Peking University alone, six times the number five years ago. This phenomenon, part of the overall trend toward the convergence of the Greater China education market, has gradually come to influence Taiwan's nearly 3 million high school, university and graduate students.

Studying in China motivated by global view

Taiwanese parents have a global view that are more supportive of their children studying aboard. When asked, 36 percent of Taiwanese parents have plans for their children to study abroad, and 1.5 percent have children already studying overseas. Comparatively, 12.8 percent of Chinese parents have made such plans, with only 0.7 percent already with children studying abroad.

Lai Yu-rou, a 22-year-old Taiwanese graduate student of finance, spent two months as a summer intern in the Shanghai branch of the China-based Bank of Communications. Lai is unlike many of the first wave of Taiwanese students in China, whose parents own or work for Taiwanese enterprises there. Lai's parents are simply teachers who encouraged her to get experience in China. Although she appreciates Taiwan's free and diverse environment, she has seemingly come to accept the nomadic fate of her generation. She told Commonwealth, "If there are no good opportunities in Taiwan, I could go to Beijing and Shanghai in the future."

At the same time, most parents still do not want their children to study at a Chinese university, with 70 percent concerned about public security, 59 percent worried about their children adapting to life there, and 38 percent due to the financial burden.

Further opening of Taiwan's schools in June

But does gaining experience in China really help one's career development? The Commonwealth says the answer may be yes. The number of foreign enterprises in China, for instance, has grown from 420,000 in 2002 to 700,000 today, and they all need talented people who understand China.

Jack J. T. Huang, partner-in-charge of Jones Day law firm in Taipei, said the experience in China is important, but not an absolute necessity. Take mergers and acquisitions as examples, there are 500 cases of over US$100 million in China, while there are only 10 cases in Taiwan There are several hundred law firms and venture capitalists and bankers struggling to compete for these 500 in China, but in Taiwan, if you are one of the best lawyers, you may easily take three out of the ten. So it is your decision to weigh in the success whether to fight with killer whales in the Pacific or just catch fish in the Taiwan Strait.

Bill Lin is the general manager of the online shopping website PayEasy, a subsidiary of Taishin Financial Holding Co. that expanded abroad in 2009 and is planning to set up branches in Shanghai and Beijing this year. Lin himself has two school-age daughters, in ninth and sixth grade, and because of his belief that exposure to China could be beneficial to their future, he has purposefully taken them traveling in China over their summer and winter breaks for the past two years.

"I will encourage my daughters to stay in Taiwan until they graduate from high school, attend college in China, get a graduate degree in the United States, and then return to Asia, and especially China, to develop." Lin says. "Taiwan's small island-market has the benefit of being sophisticated, but China is a seductive high-risk, high-reward market."

With a more globalized economy, universities around the world have entered a make-or-break battle – a brand war for funding, resources and interdisciplinary and international alliances. No longer just competing for students locally, they are also competing for international students.

Although there have been thousands of Chinese exchange students on Taiwan’s campuses, they have normally stayed for less than four months. Starting in June 2010, this will change as Taiwan begins to recognize Chinese qualifications.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.