Why Does the Top Five Percent of Pupils Love This School?
Taiwan Tech, Most Popular University for International Students in Taiwan
The largest population of international students in Taiwan is not concentrated, surprisingly, in the popular “top four” universities: NTU, NCKU, NTHU, and NCTU. Instead, you will find them enrolled en masse in the former technical college National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, colloquially known as Taiwan Tech. Taiwan Tech’s contribution to fostering foreign talent has won them three billion NT$ in donations from grateful international enterprises. Why is Taiwan Tech so successful at attracting elite students from around the world?
Taiwan Tech, Most Popular University for International Students in TaiwanBy Felice Wu
In Taiwan, the university with the most international students enrolled in graduate courses is not a conventional school like the prestigious NTU, NCKU, NTHU, or NCTU, but the former technical college National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), also called Taiwan Tech. According to the Ministry of Education, in 2018 there were 724 students from overseas pursuing their MD or PhD at Taiwan Tech, which is 93 more than the second most popular choice, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU).
Taiwan Tech contributed so much to cultivating talent around the world that international enterprises are giving back generously. Recently, Taiwan Tech announced the signing of an MoU with famed Indonesian entrepreneur Setyono Djuandi Darmono. Darmono has committed to donating resources worth three billion New Taiwan dollars (around a hundred million U.S. dollars) to Taiwan Tech over ten years. He is also inviting Taiwanese students to study and start their own businesses in Indonesia.
On average, this is equivalent to a donation of three hundred million NT$ each year, which is about ten percent of Taiwan Tech’s annual revenue. The esteem shown to Taiwan Tech stands in stark contrast to less reputable Taiwanese universities, some of which have been accused of exploiting students from overseas as cheap foreign labor.
What’s more, Taiwan Tech is in fact quite choosy about their pupils. They admit only the top five percent of students from the most prestigious universities in developing nations. What is the secret that attracts all these elites to Taiwan Tech?
The time is four-thirty in the afternoon. The location is just outside Engineering Building II (E2) on the campus of Taiwan Tech. At the sound of the bell, students come trickling out the door. The last three to leave are girls in red and grey hijabs; they’ve just finished a course in nanomaterials at the Department of Chemical Engineering.
The Department of Chemical Engineering boasts the most international students in NTUST. They have almost 80 MD or PhD students, mostly from Indonesia or Vietnam. (Photo by Ming-Tang Huang)
“They are passionate about their studies and responsive to my questions, so it’s a joy to teach them,” says Wei-Hung Chiang(江偉宏), Associate Professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Compared to local students, who are often shy and afraid to make mistakes, international students actively participate in class and can be relentless with their questions. “They want to know the reason for everything,” he observes.
This is contrasted by their Taiwanese classmates, who may be overly pragmatic and devote attention to schoolwork based on how much they think it will advance their future careers.
Alumnus Ranked Alongside NCKU President in Asian Scientist 100
One reason for Taiwan Tech’s success is the significance of practical vocational training to students from fast-growing developing nations.
There are over 300 Indonesian pupils at Taiwan Tech; they make up the bulk of its international student body. In fact, over 1,000 Indonesian graduates have passed through the gates of Taiwan Tech since it began recruiting from Indonesia fifteen years ago. Many of them have gone on to become successful scholars or educators in their own right.
One such paragon is Dr. Felycia Edi Soetaredjo, who graduated from the Department of Chemical Engineering in 2013.
Though only 41 years of age, she was featured by the Singaporean science magazine “Asian Scientist” in the Asian Scientist 100 (2018 edition) in recognition of her research in waste water management. Also on the list was Huey-Jen Jenny Su, the first female president of NCKU.
The fact of the matter is, the Department of Chemical Engineering has played an important role in paving the path to Southeast Asia. NTUST President Ching-Jong Liao says that in the early 2000s, Taiwan Tech became alarmed at the dwindling number of good graduate students. It was understood that a fresh source of students could be tapped outside of Taiwan, but no one knew how to find them.
Fortunately, a professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering ventured to Southeast Asia as a visiting scholar, and so the school made first contact with the region. From that point, Taiwan Tech began to earn its good name. Nearly a hundred of its alumni are currently professors in Indonesia. One example is Dr. Ika Bali, vice president of Matana University, who graduated from the Department of Civil and Construction Engineering at NTUST. These eminent alumni advance the education of their fellow countrymen while promulgating the fame of Taiwan Tech.
Another student who made the pilgrimage to Taiwan Tech is Yen Pin-an (顏斌安), currently in his second year at the Department of Electrical Engineering. He is studying for a master's degree. A well-built young man nearly six feet tall, Yen came from an ethnically Chinese family and graduated from the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology, one of the top five universities in Indonesia. His undergraduate dissertation was about computer vision. When he learned professors from Taiwan Tech were visiting his school, he studied their online profiles to see who would make a suitable mentor, then met them in person and settled on his current advisor. Last February, he joined the Taiwan Tech student body.
Yen Pin-an, an Indonesian student who’s studying at Taiwan Tech, says Taiwan’s respect for academic freedom is second to none in the world. After he graduates, he plans to return to his country and contribute with his newfound knowledge. (Photo by Felice Wu)
Yen says many Indonesian students in Taiwan knew each other before coming here. “A lot of them are old classmates.”
Taiwan’s respect for academic freedom is one of the factors that brought him here.
Speaking in a relaxed, confident manner, Yen says Taiwanese graduate schools are worlds apart from their Indonesian counterparts. Whereas Indonesian professors stick to the books, his Taiwanese teachers encourage him to engage in critical thinking, form his own opinions, and even publish his findings.
“I feel I am freer here, I think I can compete with scholars from any country in this environment,” he says.
Developing nations on the fast track to prosperity prefer professionals with a hands-on approach to engineering and management over academics well-versed in theory but lacking in experience. Taiwan Tech focuses on practical application and industry-academia collaboration; this is the leverage that propels elite students to make their sojourn here from around the world.
“Our teachers are very knowledgeable about the practical side of things,” compliments Tu Yuan-Yi (杜元義), a PhD student in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering. Sporting black-rimmed glasses and speaking in a soft, mild-mannered way, Tu was an engineer with German conglomerate Bosch in Ho Chi Minh City before coming to continue his education in Taiwan.
Already a PhD candidate, he says Taiwan Tech’s collaboration with Taiwanese tech companies such as Delta, LiteOn, and Chroma gives him access to inside stories about how industry leaders are utilizing new technology, a privilege that fills him with surprise and admiration.
According to Tu, Taiwan Tech’s deep ties to the tech sector ensure that the most advanced equipment can be found on campus. Students have a chance to learn firsthand how to operate these complex instruments. For him, this is a priceless experience.
“The close relation with tech companies and generous scholarship programs are the reason why some of the best students give up National Taiwan University for a chance to enter National Taiwan University of Science and Technology,” he says.
Tu Yuan-Yi, a PhD student in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, worked as an engineer in an international conglomerate in Vietnam. He is deeply impressed by the professionalism of his teachers at Taiwan Tech. (Photo by Felice Wu)
How Does Taiwan Tech Recruit the Best and Brightest?
Taiwan Tech is on a quest to gather the best and brightest. To this end, it has prepared a deep purse to award generous scholarships to diligent students, and often sends teachers aboard to speak at recruitment seminars. International students are generally model pupils. A tuition wavier or a monthly allowance of eight to fifteen thousand NT$ to incentivize industrious behavior can be very attractive, especially to young people who came from impoverished backgrounds.
Besides Southeast Asia, eager scholars also come from as far as Africa—eight thousand kilometers away. The Ministry of Education calculates that the number of Ethiopian graduate students at Taiwan Tech has increased from 29 in 2014 to 124 in 2018, making them the second largest body of international students in NTUST.
Dawit Bogale Alemayehu is an Ethiopian PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. For him, the long trip to Taiwan Tech was the turning point of his life. Though he grew up poor, Alemayehu’s diligence allowed him to become a university lecturer, and he moved to Taiwan two years ago.
As a child, Dawit used to live on the streets, but he holds Ethiopian and Taiwanese teachers in the highest regard. He has a daughter to look after, and after comparing salaries in Ethiopia and Taiwan, he decided becoming an educator in Taiwan was his calling in life.
Even for those who return to Ethiopia, a doctorate from Taiwan can be a golden ticket to a brighter future. President Ching-Jong Liao notes that up to eighty percent of students from Ethiopia are university lecturers. Earning a PhD will help them get promoted to associate professor, which in turn gives them the chance to educate more students in Ethiopia.
Taiwan Tech makes fine use of its network of international alumni to gather more resources for its students. In February of this year, NTUST established an official Alumni Association in Indonesia. Much to the awe and joy of guest of honor Setyono Djuandi Darmono, who is Chairman of the Jababeka Group and the largest industrial estate developer in Indonesia, social elites flocked to attend the event.
Recently, he signed the aforementioned MoU with Taiwan Tech. President Liao states that Darmono, who is himself the founder of President University in Indonesia, has committed to the donation of resources worth three billion NT$ to Taiwan Tech over a period of ten years. He will also work with Taiwan Tech to design courses that give Taiwanese students the chance to study and start businesses in Indonesia.
It goes without saying that many Indonesian students in Taiwan miss their motherland. They anticipate the day when they can go back and use what they’ve learned to make a difference. Student Yen Pin-an says his parents and teachers back home often drop not-so-subtle hints that he should return. He is planning a startup company with his Indonesian friends; but even if the startup fails, he does not plan to work outside of Indonesia for more than a couple years.
“I want to do something in my own country, something that will improve Indonesia,” he says.
Have you read? More stories from Indoensians in Taiwan:
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As Taiwanese Companies Look South, NTUST Becomes Their Talent Pool
Not all students look forward to returning home. For some of them, Taiwan has become their new home. Vietnamese PhD candidate Tu Yuan-Yi admits that he longs to remain in Taiwan.
Back in his own country, getting a doctorate puts one in the pigeonhole of becoming a college professor. In Taiwan, there are infinitely more opportunities for an ambitious scholar who wants to work in the private sector. He loves to do research; research and development personnel are in high demand in this town. Currently, he is enrolled in Taiwan Tech’s free Chinese courses to improve his chances of finding employment in Taiwan.
In the three years and more that he’s been here, Tu has found a balance between work and play. No longer are the boundaries of his world defined by textbooks. He participates in plenty of extracurricular activities, and has been elected head of the Vietnamese student council in NTUST. Life, as the saying goes, is good. And his wish to remain is not a pipe dream.
Taiwanese employers have begun to actively seek out Southeast Asian talent. Dr. Wan-Ping Tai, researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) in NCKU, points out that the trade war between China and the United States has driven Taiwanese companies away from the Mainland and toward Southeast Asia. They are in sore need of Vietnamese and Indonesian employees who can lead the charge, be they managers, engineers, or even tour guides.
The Department of International Business at Cheng Shiu University is already reaping the benefits of this trend. Their graduates have all found gainful employment; even students still working on their theses are being wooed by eager employers.
Dr. Wan-Ping Tai, who also teaches in this department, says that back when Taiwan was fixated on the Chinese market, language barriers were not a problem. But now that the ASEAN market is beginning to heat up, corporations and universities alike are rethinking their recruitment strategies and cultivating more and more foreign talent.
For vocational education in Taiwan as a whole, this may also be a valuable chance for reflection and reevaluation. During the past twenty years, vocational schools across the island have been rebranding themselves as technical colleges. In the process, they’ve shifted their focus from practice to theory. And yet the single selling feature that’s winning over so many international students is their long-neglected proficiency in vocational training and industry-academia research collaboration. Even local companies are catching on. Many are working with technical universities to ensure the next batch of graduates will be the type of talent they need.
Have you read? More topics on talent in Taiwan:
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Dr. Tai reiterates that for the rapidly ascending Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia and Vietnam, students need to learn practical, useful skills. Prestigious schools like the National Taiwan University, despite being number one in the country, may be too research-intensive for their taste. Technical colleges are throwing their hat into a losing game if they try to churn out research papers like a conventional university; it does not help with enrollment.
Every university needs to take a long, hard look at what makes it special, and find its position in the market. This is the way to benefit from a sustainable business model while benefiting the world by producing useful talent.
As for Taiwan Tech, it has set its sights on Latin America as if it’s the Christopher Columbus of Taiwanese education. The Taiwan-Paraguay Polytechnic University, jointly established by Taiwan and Paraguay, officially opened its doors on March 18. Six teachers from NTUST are already there educating the very first class of freshmen students. These pupils are really the cream of the crop; the selection process has caused quite a stir. Four hundred students were selected from among four thousand applicants to enroll in math and English preparatory courses that lasted six months. Of the four hundred, less than half made the grade and officially became freshmen at the new university.
President Liao of NTUST summarizes his goal in this way: “We want to become an international university; both local and international students are welcome here.” The declining birth rate is a universal problem for developed nations. While some schools cook up schemes to hoodwink pupils from overseas, other institutions are boldly stepping out of their comfort zones and advancing the ideals of Taiwanese higher education around the world.
Translated by Jack C.
Edited by Sharon Tseng