For Better Relations with India, Taiwan Must Support Indian Students

For Better Relations with India, Taiwan Must Support Indian Students
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

Supporting Indian students in Taiwan is key to the broader success of India-Taiwan relations and the New Southbound Policy. There is more the Taiwanese government can do.

Taiwan aims to deepen its relationships with Southeast and South Asia with its New Southbound Policy (NSP). One of the upshots of the policy has been a rapid increase in Indian students in Taiwan.

While the deepening of ties between India and Taiwan is good for both countries, there is still a lot to be done to support Indian students in the long term. Success or failure in how the policy affects students like myself is key to the broader success of India-Taiwan relations and the NSP.

India’s place in the NSP

Since the launch of the NSP, both economic cooperation and educational exchanges between Taiwan and India have deepened. The two countries have not only seen a six-fold growth in volume of trade between 2014 and 2018. Taiwanese universities have also seen a rise in the enrollment of Indian students in PhD and master’s degree programs. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2019, the number of Indian students reached 2,783 in 2019, 115% higher than in 2016 (1,293).

The Taiwanese government has also launched a number of scholarship programs to promote educational exchange with India. Taiwan Experience Education Program for Indian Talents, a short-term internship program, aims to familiarize Indian students with Taiwan’s job market, education system and society. The Elite Scholarship and Elite Study Programs help college instructors and governmental officials from ASEAN and South Asian countries pursue their studies in Taiwan. 

To strengthen two-way exchange, the government is actively promoting the Taiwan Studies Project in India. As part of the initiative, it funded National Tsing Hua University in 2011 to set up the Taiwan Education Centre in India with local universities.

Source: Department of Statistics, Ministry of Education, Taiwan
Statistics of Degree and Non-Degree Indian Students in Taiwan

With the NSP, Taiwanese government has made genuine financial commitments and top-down policies to attract Indian students, but the day-to-day implementation is not without its challenges. There are a few obstacles we have encountered.

English for administrators, Mandarin for students

Many Taiwanese universities have welcomed greater numbers of international students, yet some do not seem to be prepared. University staff and faculty members are struggling to adapt to the use of the English in communication and interaction with international students.

The lack of courses taught in English is another problem for international students. Many universities require students to register for Mandarin-taught courses, even if they do not have the required language skills.

International students, bringing diversity into the classroom, should be an invaluable asset to professors. Yet when basic communication is difficult, they become a burden that impedes effective teaching and learning of local students. 

While Taiwanese universities should fund more English-taught courses, they also need to invest more resources in helping international students learn Mandarin to be able to take classes with local students. Universities are international students’ first point of reference to Taiwanese society. The intermingling with their fellow students helps them navigate the cultural shock of the new environment and develop personal interconnections.

Life beyond the campus

There is a need to establish closer relations between the language and degree programs and scholarships. Universities can also encourage language exchange between local and international students. To support international students, universities should help them integrate into local culture, of which language is an integral part. The help becomes more important when international students wish to stay in Taiwan after graduation. 

Many Indian students cite language barriers as one of the prominent reasons they find it difficult to secure a job in Taiwan. A recently graduated master’s student told me that while it is easy to quickly find a job in English teaching, it is much harder to find a job one actually wants. 

Most professional jobs require a strong command of both English and Mandarin. Some students also admit to cluelessness on how to find jobs. A few have turned to local Indian restaurants for part-time work. Their academic knowledge and command of English, currently, is not as enabling as their lack of Mandarin is constraining. 

At this stage of the NSP, Taiwan as a market and society is undergoing an internationalization process, yet that many Indian students have struggled to launch careers in Taiwan shows that the internationalization has yet to fully take root.

While cultural and language differences still loom over attempts made towards improving support for Indians to study and live in Taiwan, the steady and continuous rise in the number of inbound Indian students is a sign of heightened awareness, trust, and confidence in Taiwan. Taiwan’s universities ought to make the most of the opportunity this enthusiasm presents. 

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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