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China cuts undergraduate student quota for Taiwan

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A cooling political climate between China and Taiwan has seen significant reductions in air travel and non-degree study throughout 2016
  • The Chinese government has now moved to further curtail outbound mobility to Taiwan by cutting the allowed quota for new undergraduate students from the mainland in half
  • Meanwhile, Taiwan aims to offset the falling number of mainland students with increased recruitment in South and Southeast Asia

The Chinese government has cut in half the number of students who will be allowed to study in Taiwan this year. The decision was announced on 29 May by Taiwan’s University Entrance Committee for Mainland Chinese Students. “We have been trying hard to ask for a larger admission quota. However, China has the power to decide the number of Chinese students studying in Taiwan,” said the committee’s Director General Chang Hung-Te.

News report from the Taiwan Public Television Service

Every year, Chinese students apply for positions at universities in Taiwan during late-May and June. Enrolment regulations released by China at the end of May decreased the admission quota for new Chinese undergraduate students in Taiwan from 2,136 in the last academic year to only 1,000 for 2017/18.

The impact is expected to be felt most strongly among private universities in Taiwan, which host the majority of students from China. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Shih Chien University President Michael Chen said, “Some of the more popular private schools will tend to suffer more as these schools used to have more than 100 mainland students enrolled. If a university has 73 students from the mainland each paying NT$100,000 (US$3,700) tuition and other fees a year, it will bring in NT$29.2 million in revenue (US$968,000) in four years before those students graduate.”

Part of a pattern

The quota cut for undergraduate admissions is only the latest indicator of cooling relations, and declining student mobility, between China and Taiwan. The move occurs in a year of increasing tensions between the two governments following the election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen in May 2016, and, in particular, her refusal to acknowledge the “One China principle” which asserts that both Taiwan and mainland China are inalienable parts of a single China.

As we have noted previously, the number of short-term exchange students from China has also been falling this year. After more than doubling between 2011 and 2013, the number of non-degree (often single semester) enrolments in Taiwan fell from just over 34,000 in 2015/16 to 32,600 in 2016/17. Under the current climate, we might expect further declines in the coming academic year as well.

In a similar vein, Chinese officials have also moved to reduce travel to Taiwan generally, with new reductions on visas and air routes from the mainland rolling out throughout last year. This was estimated to have reduced year-over-year arrivals from China by as much as 30% between 2015 and 2016.

Look to ASEAN

These downward trends in Chinese mobility occur even as Taiwan’s universities have launched an ambitious plan to more than double foreign enrolment in the country by 2019. No doubt with an eye to the volatility and government control with respect to outbound students from the mainland, Taiwan has explicitly targeted India along with markets in Southeast Asia for its expansion plans.

Referring to this 2019 target recently, Yang Ming-ling, director general of international and cross-strait education at Taiwan’s Education Ministry, said, “The government has earmarked NT$1 billion (US$33 million) for a project that includes luring talent and students from Southeast Asia and other Asian areas to work and study in Taiwan.”

As we reported late last year, there are now some significant pressures on higher education institutions in Taiwan that are driving this increased interest in international recruitment. Higher education enrolment in the country dropped to 250,000 students in 2015/16 from 270,000 the year before, and the enrolment base is projected to continue to shrink through 2019 with significant year-over-year reductions throughout.

Simply put, Taiwan now has more universities than it needs. The Ministry has announced plans to merge or close up to 52 institutions, and the first such moves are already underway.

All of these factors are likely to sharpen the country’s focus on strengthening enrolment from key markets in Southeast and South Asia, and, in the process, to further increase regional and international competition for Asia’s internationally mobile students.

For additional background, please see:

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