TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese universities are preparing to attract top-notch students from mainland China, an official said Thursday, setting the stage for the dismantling of another barrier amid warming ties between the sides.
Despite a decade of cultural exchanges, Taiwan has barred Chinese students from studying for college degrees on the island, fearing that mainland students could bring unwelcome political influences or compete for jobs with locals.
Now, says Vice Education Minister Lin Chung-ming, students from 40 leading Chinese universities can apply to study on the island, if — as expected — the Legislature approves.
Lin’s initiative, timed to begin with opening of the new college term in September, is part of President Ma Ying-jeou’s signature program to improve relations between Taiwan and the mainland. Since taking office 19 months ago, Ma has lowered tensions across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer- ) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level since the sides split amid civil war in 1949.
Major steps by Ma include re-establishing regular cross-strait flights, dismantling barriers to Chinese investment in Taiwan, and setting the groundwork for a partial free trade agreement between Beijing and Taipei.
Lin said Chinese students coming to study in Taiwan will fit nicely into that pattern.
“We would like to provide the mainland students a better understanding of our democratic and pluralistic society,” he said. “The new program can also spur welcome competition. The mainland students are known for their diligence and they can stimulate our students to study harder.”
To ease public worries, Lin has set strict restrictions on the new program, limiting the annual inflow of Chinese students to 2,000, and preventing them from seeking local employment after their studies end.
The mainlanders will also be barred from receiving scholarships from public funds, though Lin said many Taiwanese universities are now raising private funds to help attract them to their schools.
Officials say about 200 Chinese college students are now studying in Taiwan on one-year exchange programs.
Some Taiwanese educators have praised them for their dedication to study, saying they put their Taiwanese counterparts to shame.
“You only have to put a few students from Peking or Qinghua University in classrooms to deter local students from dozing off or snacking,” Commonwealth magazine publisher Kao Hsi-chun told a group of scholars Wednesday.