Although Taiwan’s economic miracle has been well documented, the primary reason for its present-day leadership in technology and entrepreneurship has often been underreported. The country boasts world-class higher education.
Higher education has been a cornerstone of Taiwan’s growth, development, and employment.
More than 60 percent of Taiwanese have received higher education, putting the country at number five in tertiary enrolment in the 2009 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, which ranked Taiwan sixth out of 133 countries in the category of innovation.
Also, the 2010 Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings placed nine Taiwanese universities in the top 500, with National Taiwan University figuring in the top 100.
In the same year, a survey of Essential Science Indicators (ESI) had five Taiwanese universities in the top 1 percent of the world’s research institutions in sixteen of twenty-one specialized fields of study.
One of those universities was the Hsinchu-based National Chiao Tung University (NCTU).
Founded in 1958, NCTU set up the country’s first semiconductor laboratory, which spurred the Taiwanese economic miracle. Today, the school is a research-oriented comprehensive university with nine colleges and 13,000 students, 7,000 of which are graduate students. NCTU specializes in engineering, semiconductors, photonics, ICT, and computer science.
Its computer science department placed thirty- second in the ESI survey and came in at number 35 in Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities for 2010, while its engineering department was ranked 32 and 47 respectively in those same surveys.
“If you look at a list of the top one hundred high-tech companies in the world over the past ten years, around twenty companies will be from Taiwan, and about 60 percent of those were started by NCTU alumni,” boasted Dr. Shang H. Hsu, dean of the Office of International Affairs of NCTU.
NCTU has attracted many students because of its close connection to private industry. “To attract more incoming students from top universities in the United States, we hold two-month international summer programs that include Chinese language and culture courses and, most importantly, internships with local high tech companies in Hsinchu Science-Based Park,” Hsu said.
“We want to increase the number of students from the United States, particularly engineering students from first- and second-tier U.S. universities, whose standards are comparable to ours,” Hsu added.
NCTU has also been one of the Taiwanese universities selected for partnerships by foreign companies, such as Corning, Intel, IBM, and Microsoft.
“These companies establish research labs on campus. These industry-leading companies have a lot of new ideas but do not know if they are feasible. We do the feasibility studies and share the intellectual property because NCTU has the top and largest intellectual property office in Taiwan,” explained Vice President Dr. Jason Yi- Bing Lin.
“We also collaborate with U.S. companies and bring their technology into Taiwan through a domestic company. For example, we recently worked with Telcordia once the collaborative research was completed, we approached Taiwan’s largest telecom, Chunghwa Telecom, to see if they were interested in implementing the technology,” Lin added.
Another of Taiwan’s reputable schools is Fu Jen Catholic University (FJU), located on the outskirts of the capital, Taipei.
FJU has eleven colleges and 27,000 students, and its college of management was the very first in the greater China area to receive AACSB accreditation in 2005 and was included in the top five percent of business schools in the world. Its AACSB accreditation was renewed in 2010.
“Fu Jen is a Catholic university that combines Chinese and Western cultures. We are committed to constructing an excellent, distinctive, and international university in order to become the most distinctive Catholic university in the Greater China Area,” said Vice President Dr. Lucia S. Lin.
Highlighting FJU’s reputation is its medical school, which has risen quickly to the top, primarily due to its style of instruction. “Our medical school has now graduated three classes and one of our graduates received the top score in the national exam. This is due to the pedagogy that we use to educate our medical students. We use a comprehensive system of problem-based learning. We ask students to learn collaboratively and from their first year onwards, we divide them into small groups, with each assigned to a tutor who is an MD. It is quite costly, but we invest in our programs,” said Lin.
In an economy once known for its strength in original equipment manufacturing, and now displaying a new strength in original design manufacturing, FJU has built up an expertise in fashion and design. In fact, the university will soon launch an all-English-language bachelor’s degree in Asian brand and fashion management.
To date, FJU has 185 affiliated schools from 34 countries, including 58 from the United States. This includes the development of six dual-degree programs with American universities, including Temple University, the University of San Francisco, and Texas A&M International University.
Unique to the university, FJU has a triple degree, the joint Master of Global Entrepreneurship and Management, with the University of San Francisco and Universitat Ramon Llull of Spain.
At the end of the one-year, nonstop course, which involves a term in each of the schools, students get master’s degrees from all three universities.
But Taiwan is not resting on its current educational achievements.
With an ageing population, overcrowding in its universities, and a low birth rate, Taiwan realizes that the future of its higher learning enrolment is growing more dependent on the international students it attracts. This is the reason forty-seven universities have entered into joint or dual-degree partnerships with international counterparts.
According to Dr. Lin Tsong-Ming, political deputy minister of education, “We have to internationalize. International students currently make up about 3.3 percent of the student population, or about 45,000. We want to promote Taiwanese schools more and want to increase that number by 10 percent yearly to around 150,000 by 2020.”
- Originally prepared by Global Media for Foreign Affairs' Special Report on Taiwan 2011