Mergers in shrinking HE Taiwan

Nieuws | de redactie
5 december 2012 | Six of Taiwan´s national universities will merge into three. These mergers reflect the government´s determination to downsize and reduce costs to tackle problems caused by a steady decline in student enrolment. What are the underlying trends to cause this merges?

The National Taiwan University will merge with the National Taipei University of Education. The National Tsinghua University will merge with National Hsinchu University of Education, and finally the National Pingtung University of Education will merge with National Pingtung Institute of Commerce.

Merging one leg of the solution

This is not the first attempt to reduce the number of universities in Taiwan, but the previous attempts failed to run smoothly. Already in 2006, a merger between National Tsinghua University and National Hsinchu University of Education was considered by the Ministry. However at that time the institutions were unable to agree on how to carry out the process, how the personnel would be arranged, and what to officially name the merged university.

Taiwan, the island with the highest density in universities, is suffering from shifting demographics. The 162 universities see their enrollments drop because of low birthrates in the past twenty years. Taiwan is not the only country in the region enduring this, Japan, South Korea and China suffer from similar problems.

The Ministry of Education is looking at national universities and polytechnics that have less than 10,000 registered students, of which there are currently 53, however schools in remote areas won’t be merged. Merging is one leg of the solution, recruiting international students would continue to give Taiwan’s universities legitimacy in the future.

Educating Asian Tigers

Taiwan currently has around 10.000 international students, short course students excluded. The director of Taiwan’s Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations, Lin Wen-tong, has said that he expects to see the figure to reach 120.000 in 2020. However this seems like a unrealistic step, the number of international students enrolled in Taiwan has already doubled between 2007 and 2011, including a large number of Indian students.

The focus is shifting to South East Asia, with China as the largest potential student market, but politically this  a delicate matter. Not only politically this is easier said than done, Chinese students are not very eager to study in Taiwan, at this time Taiwan is not even considered a serious option. Nevertheless, political relations between the two countries have improved since Ma Ying-Jeou was elected president and students might follow this shift.

However national universities are merging because of a lack of enrollments, still 25.000 Taiwanese study in the US alone, but the number of enrolments has dropped by 4 percent in the last year. These trend is even heavier felt in New Zealand where the number dropped with 23 percent between 2007 and 2011. This drop in international enrolment is considered bad news by the minister of education.

Taiwan is about to perform a complex balancing act. It wants to bolster slipping enrolment at home, raise the quality of education at a time when there is talk of budget freezes, lure more foreign students, teachers, and top-tier workers, and send more local students overseas for quality education and experience which they can later bring home. With strong regional and global competition it is clear that Taiwan will have to handle effective, determined and fast.

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