Taiwanese universities ‘may fall short’ of 2030 bilingual goal

Some students reluctant to switch to English-language lectures because national exams are conducted in Chinese

September 22, 2022
Chien Fu Liao #58 of Rakuten Monkeys miss a fly ball at the top of the 8th inning during the CPBL game to illustrate Taiwanese universities ‘may fall short’ of 2030 bilingual goal
Source: Getty

Academics have questioned whether Taiwan’s institutions can meet the government’s aims to make the island bilingual over the coming decade.

Under a policy launched by Taipei in September 2021, universities are expected to significantly “step up their bilingual efforts” for dual-language education in English and Mandarin by 2030, with a few top-performing “beacon” universities selected to receive NT$1 billion (£25.5 million) in funding under the initiative.

By 2024, at least 25 per cent of second-year university students at these universities will be expected to have B2-level English – to be fluent enough to communicate without effort. By 2030, half of them will need to reach this level.

The Taiwanese government has yet to determine which institutions will chart the course for the sector, but already, scholars have shared reservations about progress under the plan.

While academics largely praised the goal to move the island towards the “lingua franca of science”, they worried about Taiwanese institutions’ ability to adapt on time, with even those not funded by the government under pressure to bring English into their curricula given intense competition for students.

Elu Tu, a lecturer in Chinese and researcher in language learning at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said the goal was “not reasonable and not manageable” at classroom level.

Although she believed that universities could boost their English-teaching faculty through recruitment, she cautioned that finding ample resources for the shift might be “tricky” for many. Dr Tu questioned whether requiring all academic staff to teach in English was the right approach.

“Some professors study abroad in non-English speaking regions, so it doesn’t make sense for them to speak English…Universities hire us for our expertise, not language capacities,” she said.

A year ago, roughly 19 per cent of academics across Taiwan had taught in English, and English-language courses made up 4.5 per cent of all university courses, according to government figures.

Angela Yung Chi Hou, associate dean at the College of Education at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said that while a few elite institutions “might meet the goal” of becoming bilingual, the majority of the sector was focused on bigger problems, such as declining student enrolments.

Some students and scholars – particularly senior professors in the humanities and the arts – might take some convincing, she noted.

“The key barriers include staff mindset change, how much it will benefit student employability, and disciplinary differences, how to preserve local heritage and value.”

Wang-Chen Ling, a postdoctoral fellow at the Bilingual Education Promotion Center at Taipei Medical University, thought it “reasonable” to expect institutions to be fully bilingual by 2030, but like his colleagues, he acknowledged that there would be challenges.

He noted reservations among students at his institution, who must take a national medical exam in Mandarin. Although universities have long been using English textbooks, there is some resistance to switching to English-language teaching.

“Students worry that they may not be able to manage the course because they are not confident in their English ability. They also showed concern when a major course is taught in English, for this may affect their ability to pass national examinations, which are conducted in Mandarin Chinese,” he said.

Still, he believed that universities across the sector – even those not receiving government subsidies to roll out English-language instruction – would work to build up their English offerings, perhaps in an attempt to apply for future rounds of funding and because of “peer pressure” in a difficult market.

“If those universities don’t [boost English offerings], they may be considered as not competitive enough, and thus fewer students will choose that university,” he said.

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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