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Taiwan: Planning for a future with less students

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education outlined plans late last month to cut university enrolment quotas and encourage school mergers, in response to official forecasts that the student population will fall by a third by 2023. Plummeting fertility rates have already put a dent on domestic student enrolment, and the numbers are only expected to keep dropping. This puts enormous pressure on higher education institutions, who cannot cope with the loss of revenue in their current state. The government has therefore decided to respond by making “more effective” use of educational resources: Cutting enrolment quotas by 40%, while merging or closing up to 52 of the country’s 152 public and private universities, both by 2023.
Consolidation will be encouraged in the public sector, while private universities will be allowed to follow a “natural course”; they will not be closed unless they fail to meet ministry standards. Enrolment quotas, meanwhile, will be encouraged through financial incentives. 
In conjunction with these measures, Taiwan seeks to make up for its declining domestic population by attracting larger numbers of foreign students. The latter have been on the increase in Taiwan: 78 000 foreign students enrolled in the country in 2014, up from about 30 000 in 2008. In January, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou announced a new, ambitious target: 150 000 foreign students by 2020. For this purpose, a number of steps are being taken:
  • Universities have been given extra funds to recruit foreign students.
  • A scholarship programme for foreign students has been expanded to allow for studies in both English and Mandarin-language programmes.
  • Current restrictions on mainland Chinese students studying in Taiwan will be reviewed. 
Further information on the government’s plans –including clarification as to how the school mergers and shrinking enrolment quotas will fit in with a larger influx of foreign students –can be expected later this year, when legislation is officially proposed.