International Students at National Chung Cheng University (國立中正大學)

I’m about a week behind on this story, but here it is.

An American student with minimal Chinese skills applied to the doctoral program in Political Science at National Chung Cheng University (國立中正大學) earlier this year. He openly stated on his application that his Chinese was not strong. Despite this, he was admitted to the program, which is not unusual in the current climate of internationalization sweeping Taiwan universities. I know several people with limited Chinese who are the only foreign students at the Taiwan universities in which they study. But almost immediately he began experiencing major problems related to his lack of Chinese language skills. It appears the problem is rooted in the unwillingness of at least one of his local professors to deal with him in English. The school’s Wikipedia entry states he has withdrawn from the program and the school is now offering remedial Mandarin classes for foreign students.

You can read more about this problem over at forumosa.com. On the thread, you’ll also find links to the original articles from the media dealing with this. Michael Turton covered the incident last week. Clyde Warden who is a full professor in the ROC national university system commented on Michael’s blog

Anyone who wants to be critical of professors who do not feel compelled to teach in a foreign language should keep in mind a few points:
1) Local students can bring great pressure on teachers who use English.
2) Professors receive nothing for their extra effort.
3) The MOE’s standardized wage scale means professors in Taiwan are making less than 40K USD. There is no difference between the top universities and the lowest, between basic Chinese classes and advanced engineering or marketing classes. From the prof.’s perspective, what is the point?
4) Having foreign students does nothing for a school’s MOE reviews or ratings. They are totally disconnected from the MOE governed system. Foreign students do generate revenue flows, but not for professors in the classroom.
I’m very tempted to not use English in my own classes. There is not a single benefit.

While Clyde is absolutely correct on this, I would like to add to this. Schools here are increasingly deviating from the practice of accepting foreign students who are overseas Chinese with acceptable Chinese-language skills. Instead they recruit students whose expectation is they will be instructed in English. Schools do this without having acceptable programs for them to study in or – more importantly – policies and guidelines for handling problems like those at Chung Cheng.

Sure it’s not Dr. Lee’s fault for not lecturing in English, but it is the school’s fault for accepting students when they were not properly prepared to handle them.

If you recall, back in 2005 I wrote a post about my experience investigating an on-line brochure from the MOE about programs taught in English in the ROC. The brochure reported the availability of numerous programs taught in English, but when I contacted some of these programs directly, they told me this was not possible. I am not certain of the origins of this confusion, but it seems  no longer possible to discarded such problems as carelessness andinstead accept that deliberate deception is likely to be playing a part.

Ironically, it was only a few months ago that my colleague Dr. Ellen Chen was speaking to the media as an official representative of international education in Taiwan. Ellen had this to say, “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.” There are schools like National Cheng Kung University that maintain competitive programs for English-speaking students. Ellen, however, completely missed the point that education is now an industry and relying on the tasty food and friendly people is not enough if the product lacks consistent quality and a realistic marketing plan.

Comments

How can I miss the point, when I prefaced my input with “Anyone who wants to be critical of professors.” Come on Scott, does every blog post have to read like an attempt at criticism? I simply said don’t blame the teachers.

The industry is chasing government funds. While I totally agree with the potential payoff from such funding, there simply are many schools in it just for the cash.

My worst experience with this type of situation was over ten years back when a school I was at accepted numerous disabled students. The MOE adopted a program of mainstreaming special needs students and offered very large rewards to universities that participated. I’m sure the MOE had good intentions, and the most up-to-date ideas where used.

The problem was at the university level where the school simply collected the money, dumped the students into normal classrooms and left the teachers to cope. For example, I had a student who was vision impaired. Needless to say, having a blind student in a reading class is a problem. Another student in the department was hearing impaired, and being in a pronunciation class presented issues.

These were great kids, who worked really hard, and it just broke my heart to be involved at all because the university adopted the concept of main streaming without a single support system. No special teachers to help these students, no training for me or anyone else involved.

As you may have noticed on Michael’s site, some commenter finds it offensive that professors would care about dirty money, but my feeling in this case was very different. Every day I put in extra effort without being paid, I felt I was part of the problem, and if I had the guts to just say NO, the school would be put on the spot to either solve the problem correctly, or not take the government funding.

A programmer asked to stay on weekends and ‘donate’ his time I guess is a problem, but a professor, well he should simply do it for the love of humanity? What a joke. I actually support the professor who refused to use English in class. She is not part of the problem, she is part of the solution. Either a real service of value is created or it is not. It should not be up to the professor to sacrifice and pretend in order to help others profit.

As to the student who had the issue to start with, I have no opinion. He is a dissatisfied customer. That is not so unusual.

I don’t know if this is true of all universities, but at National Dong Hwa professors get double credits for teaching in English. So, for instance, a 1.5 hour course counts as 3 hours – which means more pay as well.

There’s a catch however. Foreign professors (who are assumed to be native English speakers, although this might not be the case) don’t qualify for this bonus.

Kerim, I’ve seen such payments at a few other universities I’ve been at, although double is very, very generous, since a professor at a minimum of 9 hours could get that down to just five or six by teaching one class in English. More normal is a cash payment of 10-20K NTD a semester. There are normally numerous rules going along with it, in my experience, such as one class can only be rewarded such funds once, and as you mentioned, the “native English speaker” rule.

What bothers me most, and I think hurts Taiwan universities the most, is the lack of any system. A group of professors simply sat in a meeting and said, yeah, lets do this. Did anyone think how native is defined, what it means, who it is, how legal such a classification is? Nope. Just sounds right. At NCHU I have appealed such silly rules, arguing that if they judge my native status by my passport, then half the staff would be in the same situation since they hold US passports. Or, I argue, many of the professors on campus have lived in the US longer than I have (by far), yet they are rewarded and I am not.

In conclusion, I refuse to accept foreign students and I won’t teach in English. I hesitate to blame teachers, although I’ve heard of teachers taking the money then doing as they please, but the real problem is the inability of national schools in Taiwan to act in a systematic way and with a legalistic emphasis. Private schools do WAY better on this.

They did this to me when I got my Masters here. A lot of it, in my experience, is that the students will complain.

I want to mention something in defense of Foreign Exchange Students and something about the way they are being treated on the campus that I teach at. It is currently the first week of classes at my university and there are entire ‘gangs’ of foreign exchange students who are anxiously traveling around from building to building literally being shut out of most classes, for the exact reasons that Dr. Warden has mentioned. Most professors and instructors here are not really interested in taking foreign exchange students into their classes. There is also a logistical issue here as well. My university does not allow the foreign exchange students to pre-register for classes so they all show up on the first day of class, expecting that some room has been made for them. It hasn’t.

At the school I work at, there was, previously, a stipend for professors. This provided that they conduct their classes entirely in English. It was a fair chunk of change actually and might have been (provided the scheme was implemented in some organized way) a good motivator. The problem is (and this was mentioned elsewhere) that professors and instructors were gladly accepting the MOE stipend and then promptly (As Dr Warden put it) ‘doing what they wanted’ (READ: teaching in Chinese).

The result of this (and I’m watching this happen today) is that universities are misrepresenting the classes available in English. So when students read the websites while sitting back home in Russia, or Vietnam or Turkey or Thailand or the USA, they are feeling good about class availability.

Once they get here however, they are horrified to see that they cannot even fulfill their basic credit requirements, let alone taking classes that may prove interesting or useful.

I’m surprised they don’t riot.

I don’t, however, necessarily agree with the idea that there is direct deception involved. I just think, like so many things in Taiwan, its just a question of ‘passing the buck’. Directives from the MOE never get followed up upon, adjusted, reviewed or debriefed. They just fail.

In my option, Taiwan universities are not ready to host foreign exchange students who do not speak fluent mandarin. Period.

The academic support systems are simply not in place.

I can tell you first hand that most of the exchange students I have taught here have been massively disappointed with the way they have been treated by the university.

“What’s that I hear
The sound of marching feet
It has a strange allure
It Has a strange allure”
-Academy Fight Song
Mission of Burma

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