The Key to Cross-Strait Educational Exchanges is in the Details
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 7, 2009
The DPP staged yet another farcical "blockade" of the Legislative Yuan this week. But why DPP legislators locked themselves inside the Legislature has everyone scratching their heads. At first DPP legislators said they were protesting the KMT's amending of the Parade and Assembly Law. They threatened to "fight to the death to prevent passage of the bill." But then on Monday they said they were protesting the official recognition of Mainland academic credentials. According to reports, DPP legislators took advantage of a rest period to barricade themselves inside the Legislature. As a result nothing got done the entire day. The opposition DPP currently has very few legislators. Faced with a crushing ruling KMT majority, the DPP's occasional resort to such obstructionist tactics is understandable. But habitual resort to such tactics every time the issue involves the Mainland, amounts to an admission that the DPP is incapable of approaching problems on their own merits, and is incapable of learning from experience. We have two things to offer regarding education and cross-strait affairs: One. We offer the ruling KMT a reminder. Two. We offer the opposition DPP a warning.
Cross-strait academic exchanges involve two issues. One is whether to recognize mainland academic credentials, and under what conditions. The second is whether to allow Mainland students to come to Taiwan, and under what conditions. These two problems are fundamentally different. One must not conflate the two by lumping them under "cross-Strait educational issues." Doing so will lead only to confusion.
First, let us clarify what we mean when we say "recognition of Mainland academic credentials." When we talk about Mainland academic credentials, we mean students from Taiwan or children of Taiwan businessmen on the Mainland acquiring Mainland academic credits. Mainland China locals pursuing academic credentials number in the hundreds of millions. They are not what we mean when we talk about recognizing Mainland academic credentials. Secondly, the reason they wish to obtain academic accreditation is they wish to apply for licenses, take civil service examinations, and pursue advanced studies. As long as those taking licensing exams have Republic of China citizenship, they have a constitutional right to take Republic of China civil service exams. The fact that our academic accreditation is restricted to our own citizens may well be unconstitutional. Imposing restrictions on particular geographical regions on the basis of ideology is even more dubious.
Is the reason for such restrictions limited opportunities or administrative costs? Is that why we must limit the rights of our own citizens? If it is, then the only reasonable criterion ought to be the quality of the schools or the credibility of the academic credentials. One must not discriminate on the basis of geographical location. Frankly speaking, Mainland Chinese universities such as Beijing University, National Tsing Hua University, Nanking University, Zhejiang University are hardly inferior to universities on Taiwan. If children of Taiwan businessmen graduate from Beijing University, yet are forbidden to return to Taiwan to take Republic of China civil service exams, that is evidence of a closed mind and a refusal to recognize talent. If we deny children of Taiwan businessmen who graduate from Beijing University academic accreditation merely to protect the so-called "rights" of local Taiwan graduates, that is discrimination against one's fellow citizens.
In short, Republic of China citizens' academic credentials must be recognized by the other side. Republic of China citizens must also be allowed to take Republic of China civil service exams on the basis of their Mainland academic credentials. We can of course impose limits on the number of families during the initial phase. This will enable us to verify the quality of their academic credentials. We can wait until the situation has improved before relaxing these restrictions. But no matter what, the academic credentials of elite universities on the other side must be recognized. If we can't do even this, then Taiwan's image will be as tarnished as the Democratic Progressive Party's as it barricades itself against progress behind closed doors.
On the other hand, we do have a number of concerns about allowing Mainland students to study on Taiwan. President Ma advocates allowing Mainland students to study on Taiwan, primarily on the grounds that "harmonious interaction is beneficial to mutual understanding." On this point, we could not agree more. But Mainland students studying on Taiwan will inevitably consume Taiwan's educational resources. Any crowding out effect is likely to trigger a backlash. Students on Taiwan fight tooth and nail to get into famous institutions such as National Taiwan University and National Chengchi University. When they are admitted their families set off firecrackers to celebrate. Who is willing to open them up to students from the other side? Even if the government announces that any Mainland students would be an "additional" quota, quotas are still quotas. Numbers games hardly ameliorate public doubts. Everyone is fighting to get into a good school. Mainland students are not interested in getting into bad schools. The government talks about opening up our schools to Mainland students. But it has not offered us comprehensive plans. We really have no idea what sort of chaos will ensue.
Perhaps the government is looking to the United States and Europe. They absorb a high percentage of foreign students. But the Republic of China truly is different from Europe and the United States. When it comes to expectations regarding their childrens' education, the Republic of China is an extremely conservative nation. The premise "Above all, Education" is deeply rooted within society. The Republic of China is a far cry from nations in Europe and the United States, which admit students from far and wide. The public might be willing to accept small-scale. short-term student exchanges. But do not expect it to accept large numbers of Mainland students arriving on Taiwan.
In any event, cross-Strait educational exchanges must be phased in gradually. They must be properly planned. The KMT must not ram its policy through in order to fulfill the President's campaign promises. The DPP should not oppose every policy that involves the Mainland. It must not inexplicably resist debate. The ruling and opposition parties cannot make progress on opposite sides of a locked door, and neither can Taiwan.