Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

International Students in Taiwan

The original post can be found here.

I have been on vacation in Canada for the past few weeks and not posting anything on my blog. I hadn’t planned on posting anything until next week, but an article in today’s Taipei Times caught my attention. The article was about the rising number of foreign students in Taiwan. Information cited in the article appears to come from an AIT-sponsored event called Internationalizing the University Campus: Sharing Experiences and Best Practices, and you can find transcripts of the event here.

As readers here know, my opinion of programs in Taiwan set up to attract foreign students is quote positive. I have pointed out that National Cheng Kung University IMBA offers a competitive English-medium education. I have also discussed positive aspects of the English taught programs at Ming Chuan University. It is thus with some surprise that I read the Taipei Times article.

The article states that there are 17,742 foreign students studying in Taiwan at the moment. This is an all-time high. Citing Jennie Wu (吳亞君), chief of the Research Division at the ministry’s Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations, the article reports that the increase is due to a, “global thirst for Mandarin learning. The reasons international students choose Taiwan over China vary from student to student…but many come here because Taiwan is a freer society, people are friendlier and the teaching is more flexible.”

Sure, we all know that anyone in Taiwan must be here because it’s friendly people, free society, and the delicious food. Besides, as we are relentlessly told in the Taipei Times, Mandarin is the emerging world language. We all know this. But the numbers in the article don’t make any sense. Over five thousand (5,259) of these students are enrolled in degree programs. The article cites MCU as one the schools at which large numbers of these degree-seeking students are enrolled. But I know for a fact that no more than a handful of the foreign students at MCU are enrolled in Chinese-language programs. My assumption is that almost all the foreign students seeking degrees in Taiwan are here because of these English-taught programs. And as true as that is, it should not go unstated that these degree-seeking foreign students are not paying tuition. In fact, many of them would be actually making money for studying here.

But the article is confusing about what the 17,000+ number really indicates. Citing Dr. Ellen Chen (陳亦蘭), dean of the International College at Ming Chuan University, the article goes on to discuss how, “With increasing global interest in China, Taiwan has become a center for Mandarin language education.” I am not certain where Ellen, whom I know very well, got this information. The program she is dean of is English-taught and prior to that, she was Chair of the MCU Department of Applied English.

The article provides some numbers for students in Taiwan study Mandarin. Once again, it is not clear to me what these numbers mean. The article claims that somewhere around 10,177 students are enrolled in Taiwan studying Mandarin, most of whom appear to be studying at the National Normal University. Somewhere in this calculation, the article has lost more than 2,000 students (10,177 studying Mandarin + 5,259 studying for degree does not equal the 17,742 foreign students studying in Taiwan). Where these students could be and what they are studying is puzzling, although some of this difference may be found in the time period accounted for with the figures.

In addition, there is the issue of visas. Almost all of the language students would hold a tourist visa and not a student visa. I am not certain how meaningful it is to count these two groups together and try to analyze their motivations when one of them is composed of tourists who are paying full cost for their education and the other is composed of student visa holders who are studying for free.

My point is that the comments from this event are meaningless. Other than functioning as a press statement, it is not clear what this event was supposed to accomplish. Talking about the friendliness of the Taiwanese people and how students come here to see democracy is meaningless when the fact is they are studying here for free. Unless the Ministry of Education intends to pay for students forever, none of this is going to help Taiwan compete with Japan, where thousand of students are completing degrees that they had to pay for or with Singapore where vast numbers of foreign students are studying even though they have to pay higher fees than local students (also see here).

While there may be good quality programs available in Taiwan, believing they are successful because students like the happy, healthy atmosphere of Taiwan is just plain foolish.


I receive the Taiwan Scholarship from the MoE, but I still pay fees to my school. There are different types of scholarships and the funds for some come direct from the central government rather than the educational institutions.

Posted by: David on Formosa | February 13, 2008 at 21:51


Thanks for claifying how the money is dispersed. What is important for me is that foreign students end up paying virtually none of very stiff tuition fees of these programs. While these programs may provide quality education, they competing against very well organized and established regional programs.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | February 13, 2008 at 22:59

There might be some Japanese institutions that send students to Taiwan for at least short-term Mandarin study. But if these institutions have tie-ups with institutions in China, they will be steered away from Taiwan. I have seen this at my own university, where discussion of studying Chinese anywhere but in Japan or in China is verboten. And the foreign instructors of Chinese are actually people with advanced degrees and considerable publications in philosophy and literature going over for 16 weeks how to get the intonation patterns of the syllable ‘MA’ down like a native. It all looks very familiar.

Posted by: Charles Jannuzi | February 16, 2008 at 11:07

One postscript, if you will, about how a lot of foreign students in Japan (there are almost 120,000) pay for it. I’ll have to research specifics, but most I meet are on scholarships–from Japan, from their home governments, from sponsors in their home countries. And many Chinese students come here for two reasons: to master Japanese and to work as many hours (often under the table) as they can to earn as much money as they can and to save as much of that as they can and send it back to China.

I believe that Malaysia–if it can get rid of its development state troubles–has the best future as a HE hub for Asia. It would need another Mahathir to succeed perhaps.

Posted by: Charles Jannuzi | February 16, 2008 at 11:13


“…foreign students end up paying virtually none of very stiff tuition fees of these programs.”

well, this is most certainly not true. the MOE scholarship receivers pay a full amount of fees and there are no tuition waivers whatsoever.

[for example, one semester in GSIA (MCU) costs apprx NTD 47K; in NSYSU apprx NTD 30K]

“Sure, we all know that anyone in Taiwan must be here because it’s friendly people, free society, and the delicious food.”

hilarious 😉 you’ve made my day.

with best Estonian greetings from Gaoxiong,

Leelo Maarja

Posted by: LM Hiinamaal | February 16, 2008 at 13:40

I saw the article as well and it was utterly useless and misleading. Coming to Taiwan was probably one of the worst decisions that I have made.

M. Dujon Johnson, B.A., M.A., J.D.

Posted by: M. Dujon Johnson | February 16, 2008 at 13:52

Thank you for the information. Anything else you can provide about the financial support of foreign students would be great. Most of my information about this comes from speaking with Dean Henry Wu at Cheng Kung who told me that he was able to support all of his non-Taiwanese applicants.

And while I may be technically wrong about this, let’s compare the situation you describe with that in other places trying to attract foreign students with English programs.

MBA at Graduate School of International Management

$NT560,000/2-year program

Tokyo International University


Kyoto International University

International Business


While I don’t mean to say that the fees you pay at MCU are trivial, it appears you are paying the same fees as local students. These fees are heavily subsidized by the MOE. Programs in Japan, like the ones I refer to here, have students paying 100% of the cost of their studies.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | February 16, 2008 at 16:26

Charles, the number of foreign students in Japan is about the same as the number in Canada. In Australia, there are about 150,000.

As for the financial support of Chinese students, I have little personal experience to speak from. I did find this source that states,
“Among Chinese students studying abroad in recent years, self-financed students account for an absolute majority; the percentage has exceeded 90 percent…Among 80,000 Chinese students in Japan, more than 70,000 are self-financed.”

Posted by: Scott Sommers | February 16, 2008 at 17:12

I can provide some information concerning fees and tuition. I have either been a student or taught in Mainland China, Taiwan and U.S. universities at the undergraduate, graduate and professional [law] levels. I think that it is important to remember if a student comes to Taiwan and his/her standard of living is like that of local students, then these fees are not trivial and could be very burdensome financially. In both the U.S. and Mainland China when I was matriculating as a student, the amount of tuition costs varied greatly between the two nations. However, all fees and tuition were covered in full plus a monthly stipend was given on top of this in both Mainland China and the U.S. As a MOE recipient here in Taiwan, fees and tuition are paid out of student’s pocket. That is the stipend is given to the student and then s/he must pay their fees; most foreign students see this as ‘hidden fees’ because this is not always made clear when a student is deciding to come to Taiwan on a scholarship. I think that the main difference is, from my standpoint, is that a student can very easily lose his or her scholarship for non-academic reasons (e.g., attendance which may vary from professor to professor, taking an authorized sabbatical to do research, grades or incompletes given by instructor of college due to administrative mix-ups, etc.). In Mainland China and the U.S., once a scholarship was given, it is rarely be taken away or altered it is generally fully funded. In short, the granting of a scholarship in the U.S. and Mainland China is seen as a legally binding contract. In Taiwan is is not.

Posted by: M. Dujon Johnson | February 17, 2008 at 06:46

While there may be good quality programs available in Taiwan, believing they are successful because students like the happy, healthy atmosphere of Taiwan is just plain foolish.

LOL. Quite true. But the students knew exactly what to say, though. Kudos to them!

I’m on a MOFA scholarship, tuition paid for + $10K a month stipend. At least, that’s how it was advertized, but when I arrived, the ‘stipend’ became work study, even though it clearly said ‘scholarship’ on my letter. After that year the letter was changed.


Posted by: Michael Turton | February 17, 2008 at 07:46

dear Scott,

“Most of my information about this comes from speaking with Dean Henry Wu at Cheng Kung who told me that he was able to support all of his non-Taiwanese applicants.”

the MOE scholarhip guideline specifies that the applicants cannot work neither receive other stipends. as simple as that.

this would mean no other incentives are offered to us, such as tuition waiver, part-time jobs, university scholarships, etc.

in NSYSU, all non-MOE scholarship foreign students are in principle offered some sort of financial help (this may yet vary department by department) in College of Management, the stipend has been NTD 15K/month (excl. summer) but is now NTD 8K only.. (plus tuition waiver)

“it appears you are paying the same fees as local students. These fees are heavily subsidized by the MOE.”

(1) whether the fees are NTD xK or NTD yK has a little relevance, really, as in Taiwan the maximum tuition fee a school can ask from students is fixed by MOE. indeed, MOE subsidizes educational institutions but this is not affecting us, students. esp the MOE scholarship recipients pay more than local students as we do not get tuition waivers nor part-time jobs.

in 2 years time, GSIA was able to offer only once a part-time job to a student who is “Fluent in Chinese (for composing the articles, typing documents, and communicating with other units and institutes in Chinese).”

even the simplest bonus such as NTD 10K in a semester for the 3 students best in class was not paid to MA students!

and for us, graduate students of GSIA, no ‘discount’ at all was given as ALL IC students received, whether they were MOE-related or not (-50% for the 1st yr, -40% for the 2nd, -30% for the 3rd, -20% for the 4th).

MCU 2006-7 Academic Year 1st Semester Registration Notice August 2006 specified the following notice for IC students in Article 2-i: “…students who meet the conditions below will be eligible to apply for a tuition waiver: Obtain academic grade point average over 60, with passing grades in excess of half of total courses taken, and conduct grade over 75 in both the first and second semesters respectively of the first academic year: the student will have a 40%-off tuition waiver for the second academic year.”

we sent the letter to the president of MCU:

“We are hereby asking for your kindness and understanding in confirming the procedure of the application of Article 2-i and Article 5 via GSIA to IC graduate students. Tuition waiver is the issue of significant opportunity and important to us, as according to Republic of China immigration rules international students are not permitted for income generating activities while studying.”

guess what happened? guess again.. (unless you guessed right: nothing happened. absolutely nothing.)

we contacted MOE, “…there is a financial misunderstanding between foreign students and the administration of Ming Chuan University regarding the status of the Graduate School of International Affairs (GSIA).

The university issues contradictory policies regarding the tutition and bases it on MOE’s regulation…”

guess what happened? guess again.. (unless you again guessed right: nothing happened. absolutely nothing.)

(2) NTD 47K/semester makes NTD 94K/year and NTD 188K/MA degree. this is MORE than i would pay in Europe! (NB! MOE does not reimburse any traveling costs unlike MOFA and National Science Council; a ticket from Europe is apprx NTD 50-60K).

and last but not least, Taiwanese students can study in European universities under Erasmus Mundus (EM) in 1 year (instead 2 yrs as in their home country).

for each student the scholarship amounts to EUR 21K/year (10 monthly grants of EUR 1,6K & EUR 5K for fees, travel expenses, relocation costs, etc.); for courses lasting two years, the student receives double this amount (EUR 42K).

i am writing this comment in sadness and sorrow, i must say. almost three years in two universities here have made me to realize life must be possible somewhere, BUT WHERE?!

Posted by: LM Hiinamaal | February 17, 2008 at 09:16

oh yes, and the number of foreign students?

“The article states that there are 17,742 foreign studuents studying in Taiwan at the moment.”

well, Taipei Times(Dec 26, 2007):
“According to the MOE’s Bureau of International Cultural and Education Relations, there are 13,000 foreign students studying Mandarin at the 26 Mandarin training centers in the nation and over 5,000 foreign students studying in a degree program in various Taiwanese colleges and universities.”

not just 2,000 students are missing but 4,000 already!

“Since 2003, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has beefed up its efforts to attract more foreign students to Taiwan. Education minister Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) recently called on all colleges and universities to establish an international student affairs office or to upgrade the office to be a first tier administrative facility.

The MOE has also pledged to plunge NT$500 million (US$15 million) over the next five years into improving the quality of Taiwan’s tertiary education, including increasing foreign student enrollment.”

we’ll see whether quantity is able to create quality..

Posted by: LM Hiinamaal | February 17, 2008 at 09:26

Thank you for pointing out that more money may not be the solution. That was intended to be my real point with these posts, but we got distracted with complaints about individual programs.

The intent of this post was that all the well-intentioned teaching in the world is lost in the confusion of these programs. Dean Chen’s comments may have been purely for the press, but I do get the impression from Taiwanese they really believe that tasty food and friendly smiles are enough to have foreign students flocking here, even if institutional standards are far below what is internationally available.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | February 17, 2008 at 18:09

dear Scott,

“I do get the impression from Taiwanese they really believe that tasty food and friendly smiles are enough to have foreign students flocking here, even if institutional standards are far below what is internationally available.”

LOL, again, quoting Michael 😉

i have not been cooking European food as extensively as in Taiwan!

Posted by: LM Hiinamaal | February 18, 2008 at 09:04

I’d be interested to see a something on why these students don’t want (can’t get?) to get student visas. From what I can tell, student visas are a pain in the butt. Cynical individuals will say that these people can’t really work on student visas, so what’s the point? But teaching ESL doesn’t seem like much of carrot.

Will the numbers of foreign students go down in the future? I find this assertion stunning: “The article states that there are 17,742 foreign students studying in Taiwan at the moment. This is an all-time high.” It doesn’t feel like this at all in Taiwan. Maybe the numbers could be contrasted to those of China. What kinds of all-time highs are they experiencing there?

I’m a “foreigner” who speaks Mandarin and I’m enrolled in an English-based graduate program at a Taiwanese university. I’ve paid most of my own tuition too. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I’m thinking we’re a dying breed. It seems to me that China is a lot easier and more welcoming these days. It seems like Taiwan would like nothing more than to give us the boot.

Posted by: Patrick Cowsill | February 23, 2008 at 19:36

There’s a lot I have to say about many things mentioned in your fascinating article. I share the confusion about the numbers, especially when it comes to those posted by the MoE about the Taiwan scholarship, but either way – I see those numbers as a negative thing.

I also think there’s a general misunderstanding within the Taiwanese universities and the Taiwanese government as to what internationalization means and how that should be accomplished.

First, it is my personal opinion that offering scholarships, either 25-30kNT$ for Taiwan scholarship or tuition waiver+free dorms+10kNT$ for assistantship has a way of driving the wrong kind of international students to degree programs in Taiwan. The insanely increasing number of international students cause an amazing array of infrastructure issues in the universities which are incapable of supporting their rising needs and different ways of thinking.

The problem is that most of those students lack the experience, education background and the skills to contribute back.

Scholarship based incentives might be good when they’re awarded for academic excellence, research activities or contribution to the university/society, but are a major problem if they’re awarded simply because you’re a foreigner. Third world countries see this as a financial opportunity for themselves and/or their families back home, if not an escape from dark regimes, local English teachers feel they have nothing to lose as they can maybe attend 1 course per semester and get a nice salary bonus and maybe a CV boost.

If the Taiwanese government and universities are to really try and push for higher academic achievements, then a whole new strategy needs to be taken – controlling growth to what can be sustained, choosing the right incentives to bring the right kind of international standard students, and setting the ground to support and help build those students in the local settings so they’ll stay.


Posted by: Fili | February 27, 2008 at 11:54

Dear Scott,

I thank you for putting this topic up for discussion and as a foreign PhD student, I can not but comment on some of the things said here:

For one, I do understand why your first point does get kind of mixed with the issue about the deficits of the quality of the programs offered. From my point of view, these issues are closely related to one another.

Although from an international viewpoint, the incentives offered by the Taiwanese government may not be very high, the tendency (as Fili has correctly pointed out) does seem to be that quantity goes over quality. Switzerland, for example, offers all PhD students at national universities a teaching or research assistantship (real teaching, not carrying the books and cleaning the board or summarizing journal articles, like here) with min income of 3500 SFr a month… written in law. The average is well above that. Tuition is usually waived, if not it amounts to about 500 SFr/m.

What I am trying to point out and say in a casual manner: it seems that due to the lax application requirements or the way they are handled, this country’s system screams for students that would never be taken half way seriously at another university.

The methodology may be good to boost the number of international students for a short period, in the long run however, the quality of the degree will keep high quality students and researchers from attending these programs.

“Most of my information about this comes from speaking with Dean Henry Wu at Cheng Kung who told me that he was able to support all of his non-Taiwanese applicants.”

I may point out, Prof. Wu has stepped down from the Dean last year and is now the Chairman of the Institute of International Management. Although he may be able to support most of his foreign students, the belt will be further tightened in the next semesters, giving those foreign (mostly SEA) students less possibility to support their families back home. This has officially been announced. Coming from a European country and being able to finance myself, I have not taken any of the TAs or RAs offered to me, others need it more. What he may not have told you is the fact, that he has little budget for employing the necessary professors needed to run the program or that he can not pay the ones in house enough to participate in internationalizing the system. Imagine having to pay a professor extra bonus just to bring his course to an AACSB accreditable level. In a top 3 Taiwanese university…

It has recently been announced that our university will consider less international students in the following academic year and I dearly hope this will result in a higher academic level.
Apart from that, word has come out that there are less applications compared to the last year anyway.

Financial incentives may be enough to bring students into the country. But there does seem to be a long and winding road ahead to keep the good ones…

Posted by: Tom | March 01, 2008 at 22:43

Tom and everyone else who has left a comment,

Thank you very much for the information. It was this kind of feedback I was hoping for when I put up the post. I hope I can continue to receive comments from students with experience as foreign students in Taiwan and competing education systems.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 02, 2008 at 08:55

2 Responses

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  1. Liann said, on August 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I am a student currently enrolled in the American school system. I hope to embrace my Taiwanese roots and learn this culture as well as language. I heard about the international college opportunities. Sounded too good to be true, so please help me get this straight. The story I received was that the student comes to get their degree. The first year, the student pays no tuition and recieves monthly stipends while they master the language. After that, I have no idea what happens. According to some of the former posts, the universities are shaping up and becoming more selective. Does that mean their financial conditions will also be altered?? I have so many questions. If any of you are still continuing this feed, please reply back. Anything would be much appreciated!!!

  2. KW said, on May 28, 2012 at 5:51 am


    any ideas which Taiwan universities are good for Japanese or foreign languages degrees? Thanks

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