WHILE some Malaysian students harbour dreams of furthering their studies abroad, the price tag on programmes in foreign universities tends to be a stumbling block. Although many immediately think of popular student destinations such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, there may be other more affordable choices – such as Taiwan.
Research carried out by HSBC on 13 countries last year showed that Taiwan was among the most affordable countries for foreign students - third only to Germany and Spain.
According to HSBC’s research, the average cost of university tuition in Taiwan was US$3,270 (RM10,391) per year, while the annual cost of living there for international students was US$4,987 (RM15,850).
Some of Taiwan’s universities also rank within the top 200 of global university rankings; the National Taiwan University for instance, was deemed the 82nd best university in the QS World University Rankings 2013.
Taiwan’s Political Deputy Minister for Education Dr Huang Pi Twang said that the estimated cost of an engineering degree at a public Taiwanese university was about US$1,000 (RM3,177) per semester.
“The fees may be double that amount in a private university ... but for the quality of education provided, it is still quite low.”
Dr Huang, who was recently in the country on a five-day working trip, also visited Menara Star where The Star acting group chief editor Leanne Goh explained how the newspaper and e-paper were produced.
Dr Huang said that some 157 of over 160 Taiwanese universities and colleges were recognised in Malaysia. This was following a Statement of Confidence (SoC) signed between the Malaysian Qualifications Agency and the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan in 2012.
In turn, 121 Malaysian tertiary institutions are also recognised in Taiwan.
When asked why she thought Taiwanese universities performed well in international university rankings, Dr Huang said: “We have invested a lot in our universities and our professors and students work very hard.”
She added that with the various subsidies and scholarships available, many Malaysian students would be able to receive financial aid for their studies.
For instance, the Taiwan Scholarship offered full scholarships to outstanding individuals at all levels.
“This year we offered 20 scholarships under the programme, up from 10 last year. And for overseas Chinese students, they may be able to receive subsidies from the Overseas Chinese Affairs Council.
“I think half the Malaysian students studying in Taiwan receive some sort of subsidy or financial help,” said Dr Huang.
Those who wish to study Mandarin may also be interested in the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, which offers financial aid for language courses lasting from two months to up to a year.
Aside from the quality of education, Dr Huang also believes that Taiwan offers international students an ideal environment to live in.
“It’s safe, our people are very friendly - and there’s plenty of good food!”
“We are also very proud of our healthcare system; foreign students get the same healthcare benefits and insurance as the locals,” she said.
While the bulk of international students studying in Taiwan are from China, Malaysian students make up the second highest number of foreign students in the country.
Dr Huang said there were currently around 10,300 Malaysians studying in Taiwan. Around a quarter of these students were enrolled in management and commerce programmes, with others pursuing courses in the fields of technology, engineering and the humanities.
Dr Huang said that the Taiwanese government was also encouraging more of its students to study in Malaysia, either through scholarships or exchange programmes.
“Last year we sent 69 Taiwanese students to Malaysia, and this year we are sending another 12 students under our scholarship programme.
“These are exchange students, and most of them are based at Universiti Malaya.
“I believe that many of these students are in design and related fields; I think in terms of design, learning about other countries and cultures will bring new elements to your creations, and inspire new thought,” she said.
Vocational training is also a key of focus for Taiwan, and Dr Huang shared that this was sparked by the country’s push towards industrialisation in the early 1960s.
“There was a need for good labour for the industries being set up at the time, so junior colleges were established to train talent.
“The products of these colleges helped to produce the so-called ‘Taiwanese economic miracle’ from the 1970s till the 1990s.
“Then we proceeded to upgrade these junior colleges to be technical colleges, and later into universities of science and technology – to establish a strong foundation for vocational training,” she said, adding that Taiwan had embarked on a drive to improve its vocational education system to “meet contemporary industry needs”.
Dr Huang also said that there has been an increased demand for vocational education in recent years.
“University graduates may now find that it’s hard to get jobs, while vocational school graduates can easily receive good salaries.
“So now we have more students making vocational universities or colleges as their first choices.
“When we visited Southeast Asian countries, we also found that they are more interested in vocational training than university study,” she said.
According to Dr Huang, popular fields of vocational training include agriculture, engineering, information technology and design.
“We are doing very good research in developing new species of agricultural products, such as fruits and rice.
“Fishery is another field we are looking to develop as well, and I think this is a good area for Taiwan and Malaysia to collaborate on,” she added.
Dr Huang said that although no specific deals were signed between the Taiwanese and Malaysian Education Ministries during her visit, she looked forward to increased collaboration between both countries in tertiary education.
“We are going to have a Taiwan and Malaysia higher education forum in Tapei this November. This is the first time that such a forum will be held, and the plan is to hold it in Malaysia next year,” she said, adding there were existing partnerships among Taiwanese and Malaysian institutions for specific programmes.