NTU President Pan-Chyr Yang:
Internationalization Can't Wait
In this exclusive interview the head of National Taiwan University spells out his vision for remaking Taiwanese education to facilitate a world of online learning and global connections.
Internationalization Can't WaitBy Sherry Lee, Kai-yuan Teng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 550 )
A university president who tells his faculty in public, "Don't teach your students too much," is rather the exception. This erudite scholar and long-time Academia Sinica academician often reminds other professors, "What you teach today may be useless next year. What is important is imparting to students problem-solving skills and the ability to face new challenges. You must believe that young people are very able to adapt!"
He also frankly tells lamenting entrepreneurs: Instead of complaining, it's better to provide students with internship opportunities abroad to broaden their horizons.
This man is National Taiwan University President Pan-Chyr Yang.
Since Yang assumed the helm of NTU about a year ago, his ambition to change this top-ranked university has become quite obvious.
Yang wants to change the thinking of teachers, students and corporations. He wants everyone to say goodbye to the proverbial ivory tower and take responsibility for the future of young Taiwanese.
In contrast to many of his peers, Yang did not study abroad. Despite a stellar professional career in the medical field in Taiwan, critics once questioned his qualifications for the university president job, arguing that his mindset was not international enough. Yet after taking office, Yang demanded that NTU faculty offer a large amount of online courses via its MOOC (massive open online course) platform and help more students go abroad on student exchange programs.
When companies complained that Taiwanese university education and the realities of industry and business are worlds apart, Yang called a news conference to launch the NTU Internship Program, declaring that the school would matchmake 1,500 internships in Taiwan and abroad that would also be open for application by students from other universities and colleges.
NTU Must Take the Lead to Bring About Change
Thanks to his background in medical science, Yang not only sees the symptoms, but also always looks for the underlying causes of a disease or problem. He believes that the Achilles' heel of aloof NTU academia is insufficient internationalization and ossified system of learning.
Yang is not going to take a wait-and-see attitude.
He has begun tearing down NTU's ivory towers, beginning with changes in course design and teacher evaluations. Evaluations are no longer based solely on performance in the science citation index (SCI) or the social sciences citation index (SSCI), but also on "teaching" and "service." Furthermore, Yang intends to shorten the semester from the current 18 weeks to just 15 weeks.
While Yang usually maintains a low profile, he has a rather energetic doer personality. "We can't wait for the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Science and Technology to act. That would be a bit slow. NTU needs to take the lead to change the culture," he says.
Sitting down for an interview with the CommonWealth Magazine, Yang talked about how he plans to make NTU leave the ivory towers behind and train students to meet the challenges of the world.
Following are highlights from the interview:
Taiwan is very small. We have a population of only 23 million people. Our land is very small, and we don't have any natural resources. Our only resource is talent, and talent is our greatest source of pride.
Thanks to the Internet, we can now discuss very deep questions anytime with people in all corners of the world. There are no national borders at all anymore. What we're interacting with is no longer just the population and society of Taiwan.
We understand very clearly that everyone is marching forward, and that talent cultivation and internationalization are progressing very fast. NTU has the responsibility to make students understand such facts and make them step outside into the world.
I'm quite a restless person. If there are some jobs that can be done, then I do them quickly. There's no need to wait for anything. My thinking is very simple – if something is doable, then do it quickly, without complaining.
It's humans who create opportunities. Back in our day we had no choice but to push forward. But now you can't just tell young people, "Come on, you should be like us." We should adopt young people's thinking patterns and ask ourselves how we can help them move forward, to make them more confident and more capable.
Not International Enough
The weakness of NTU students is that they're not international enough, that they're not as able to meet challenges as they should be. Now we have 3,000 to 4,000 students entering our university every year, about one third of whom will go study abroad, but that's not enough.
In fact, in many cases everyone [in the government] knows where the problems lie, but they can't muster the strength to act. We can't wait for the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Science and Technology to act. That would be a bit slow. When it comes to what NTU can do, we don't need to wait, or else things will get even worse.
The business community is also anxious. They're always complaining that companies can't use the people our universities train. In fact, our students are good enough, so let's give them an opportunity to see for themselves.
That's why we launched the NTU Internship Program, to enable students to do internships in companies much earlier, to narrow the gap between academic education and the job market. We're also bringing in international platforms to enable students to work as interns abroad, boosting their international competitiveness.
More importantly, we are giving students from other universities and vocational colleges in Taiwan an opportunity to participate in the internship program. That's the only way for young people to know whether the job fits their interests or whether there is still something missing. When they return to school after an internship, they can immediately adjust the content of their studies.
NTU's course schedule must also be adjusted. Now a course lasts eighteen weeks. We have told the dean of academic affairs the courses should not be that long; fifteen weeks would be just fine. Let the students search for the best university courses in the whole world in the remaining three weeks. Let them watch these courses – students and teachers can discuss them together. This has its benefits, because teachers learn, and students learn. They will understand how high the skies are in the world. They will immediately become internationalized.
Moreover, when students graduate from senior high school, they can also take some basic courses online in advance, such as English and math. If they pass certification, we give them credits.
For instance, when students arrive with a very good level of English, they won't need to take a general English class anymore, but should strengthen their specialist English for professional purposes. If students can advance at different paces, both teachers and students will be freed up. Each student can study at a different pace, and courses can become livelier.
Business Incubator : 'NTU Garage'
In the past, the goals of NTU were only academic research, teaching and social service, but I believe that creativity and entrepreneurship are also very important.
In the past few years, everyone has come to feel we must make an effort, because the economy is bad. We cannot shirk our responsibility to make students understand that creativity and entrepreneurship are important.
Now we have introduced "NTU Garage." Students can form teams across schools and colleges within NTU, found a company together, and put forward a business plan. If they are doing well, we can look for angel funding to help them. Currently, we have about NT$500 million in capital.
When I meet with NTU alumni, I tell them, scholarships are very important, but I don't wish to see alumni donate scholarships. What we need is your success stories from various fields of endeavor.
I also hope they can inspire students, serve as a model that our students can emulate, and encourage our students. So please give me more internships that enable us to lead our students across this thorny road.
Our generation must have greater ambition, to help young people, to create more opportunities, to let them compete with students from all over the world.
Taiwan has very talented people. We should make good use of them. The talent we cultivate can go serve in all walks of life all around the world.
However, when this trained talent goes to different places around the globe, it should be to take the lead, not follow behind others.
We need to help them rise to the occasion, to make them understand that their stage is not Taiwan with its small population of just 23 million people, but the whole world.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz