Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Come to National Taiwan University, or Perhaps Beijing University?

Come to National Taiwan University, or Perhaps Beijing University?United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 4, 2010

Recent news reports sent shockwaves through universities on Taiwan. Apparently many outstanding high school graduates are choosing to attend university on Mainland China and in Hong Kong. Sporadic cases have occurred in the past. But this year Mainland authorities made it official. Students from Taiwan who meet required standards may seek admission directly from over 100 universities on the Mainland. In other words, a pipeline for systematically channeling human resources toward the Mainland has been laid.

The number of students who have made such a choice is not yet alarming. But as one can easily imagine, the rate will surely increase rapidly, even geometrically. Subjectively and objectively, this "Come to Beijing University; go to the Mainland" trend is more alarming than the "Come to National Taiwan University; go to the United States" trend 30 or 40 years ago. Back then students from Taiwan were still proud to be recruited by National Taiwan University. They still considered it an honor. Today most of the young people who have chosen to attend university on the Mainland lack the academic credentials required for National Taiwan University. For them, this is a good alternative. Back then "go to the United States" meant a long journey at great expense. Not everyone could afford to make this tough choice. Now students from Taiwan can attend Beijing University, Tsinghua University, Shanghai's Fudan University, National Chiao Tung University and other elite schools. They have the advantage of belonging to the same culture. Their "overseas studies" will not be so costly. They will not be handicapped from the outset. Add to this the earnest effort the Mainland is making to attract them.

How members of the public respond will depend upon their perspective. Those with an "anti-China" perspective will of course pour cold water all over the option. They have issued dire warnings about "being brainwashed into supporting reunification." But many television news or talk shows have invited students to share their experiences, to compare the cost of a university education on the two sides of the Strait, the differences in culture, if any, and the trials and tribulations of daily life. Obviously this is a hot topic, and may even indicate a megatrend. The students surveyed were confident. They spoke of the ways they could increase competitiveness. They brimmed over with ambition. On the one hand, it echoed alarmist fears of "being brainwashed into supporting reunification." On the other hand it reflected the government's habitually tardy and belated response. When Mainland China's Taiwan Affairs Office first announced this policy, Mainland Affairs Council and Ministry of Education officials declared that "the attraction for students from Taiwan will not be great." They expressed confidence that good students would stay on Taiwan. But the trend suggests this is clearly not the case.

Thirty years ago this sort of "spread your wings and fly" attitude was common among students from Taiwan who attended university in the United States. Now high school students on Taiwan have expressed the same attitudes about attending university on the Mainland. Is this not an alarming scenario?

The international flow of talent in an era of globalization is nothing new. Many researchers have stressed how emigrants are driven from their place of birth and drawn to their adopted homes. Today Mainland China is a "Great Nation on the Rise." It is competing for international talent. Its draw is a factor not within our control. All we can do is try to catch up.

In fact, the most distressing development is that even as we drive native talent away, we are simultaneously preventing outside talent from entering. Studies of white collar workers "running away" reveal that at least one million people have left over the past decade. A few years ago they "voted with their feet," leaving primarily for political reasons. In recent years many of them left with their families. They are "going West" to pan for "gold in them thar hills." So-called "Taiwan businessmen" have traditionally been defined as manufacturing sector leaders. Today that definition must be broadened to include leaders of the financial industry and advertising industry, even such service industries as wedding gown makers and beauty salons. These people left partly in response to economic factors on Taiwan, and partly in response to an unstable political environment, a hostile social climate created by militant Taiwan independence groups, and a Closed Door Policy. The government can do nothing about those determined to leave. Meanwhile, the Green Camp persists in doing everything in its power to prevent Mainland students from entering, and Mainland academic credentials from being accepted. Outside talent is not permitted to enter. Inside talent is forced to leave. Over time what will be the consequences for our nation's competitiveness?

Recently our Minister of Education returned from a visit to Vietnam and Indonesia. He spoke of efforts to recruit students from Southeast Asia. The world is undergoing globalization. The population is aging. Birth rates are declining. Governments the world over are fighting over advanced technical personnel and higher education. The government on Taiwan is aggressively recruiting students from Southeast Asia. On the one hand it is unable to retain its own students. On the other hand it is preventing Mainland students from entering. What can one say about such an irrational policy?

During negotiations over ECFA, every issue was placed under the microscope, including the number of trade goods and what sort of "accomodations" would be made. Now however, a huge gap has opened up between the two sides over the departure and entry of talent. To a considerable extent this gap is the result of a tug of war between internal forces on Taiwan. The scenario is incredible. The consequences are unimaginable. How can anyone not be alarmed?

2010.08.04 01:18 am









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