Best of the Best

From Taiwan Review 2021-03-31
Elite Scholarship Program recipient Melysa Fitriana from Indonesia hones her skills at Taipei Medical University. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)

Elite Scholarship Program recipient Melysa Fitriana from Indonesia hones her skills at Taipei Medical University. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)

A government-funded scholarship is attracting lecturers from South and Southeast Asia to pursue higher education in Taiwan.

When 32-year-old Melysa Fitriana from Indonesia started her search for the perfect doctoral program to pursue her research, she was attracted by big name institutions in Australia, Japan and the U.K. But despite the fierce competition, it was ultimately Taipei Medical University (TMU) that won her approval thanks to its ideal mix of academic expertise and financial support. “I decided to study in Taiwan because of TMU’s excellent reputation for medical research and high international rankings,” she said. “Top that off with a scholarship opportunity—it was an easy choice to make in the end.”

Previously a lecturer in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Universitas Gadjah Mada as well as a practicing otolaryngologist at Dr. Sardjito General Hospital in Yogyakarta, Fitriana is a beneficiary of the Elite Scholarship Program (ESP) launched by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2017 to encourage instructors from South and Southeast Asia to pursue a master’s or Ph.D. in Taiwan. Recipients get a monthly stipend of NT$25,000 (US$893) to cover tuition and living expenses over a period of two to three years.

The scholarship was established as part of the MOE’s talent development initiatives under the New Southbound Policy (NSP). A key plank in the government’s national development strategy, the NSP seeks to deepen Taiwan’s agricultural, business, cultural, education, tourism and trade ties with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.

Dean of TMU’s Office of Global Engagement Tsai Pei-shan, standing, shares a lighter moment with ESP student Nguyen Cai from Vietnam. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)

Dean of TMU’s Office of Global Engagement Tsai Pei-shan, standing, shares a lighter moment with ESP student Nguyen Cai from Vietnam. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)

Golden Opportunity

According to Fitriana, the experience of living and studying in Taiwan has exceeded her high expectations. “While the ESP was a big incentive for me, the fact Taiwan is such a safe, tolerant and welcoming country has made everything so much easier,” she said. “As a Muslim, I’ve not faced any issues accessing halal-certified products and services, nor have I encountered any discrimination in everyday life.”

Fitriana said she understands the importance of high-quality teaching given her work as a lecturer and medical professional. Specifically, she is aware of the need for qualified scientists to ensure effective instruction in classrooms. “For the ESP to seek out people like me with a background in education shows Taiwan’s commitment to raising standards across the board not just at home but also abroad. Hopefully it can help build ties throughout the region,” she added.

Another ESP recipient is 27-year-old Nguyen Cai from Vietnam, who worked as a lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at Hanoi Medical University and as a nurse at the university’s affiliated hospital before completing her master’s degree last July in TMU’s School of Nursing. She chose TMU because of its status as one of the world’s top 100 universities for nursing according to London-based Quacquarelli Symonds’s World University Rankings.

“Studying in a foreign country can be overwhelming and create financial stress,” Nguyen said. “So when I discovered I was eligible for the ESP, I filed an application as quickly as possible—luckily I was chosen!”

Tsai Pei-shan (蔡佩珊‬), dean of the Office of Global Engagement at TMU, said her institution seeks to recruit and cultivate high-end talent from around the world through its postgraduate programs. The ESP has played a crucial role in making the university a more attractive option for international students, she added, with 345 such individuals attending TMU including 251 from NSP target countries. Among them, 33 Ph.D. students are ESP recipients: 20 from Vietnam; nine, Indonesia; three, India; and one, Thailand.

Prior to the launch of the NSP in 2016, TMU had already established cooperation partnerships in medical research and training with counterparts in Indonesia and Vietnam. These existing links helped with recruiting efforts when plans were made to expand the university’s international presence, Tsai said. “While competition for the best students from around the world continues to heat up, the ESP gives Taiwan-based institutions a trump card in attracting potential candidates.”

From Tsai’s observation, ESP recipients tend to have years of work experience before coming to Taiwan, which means they are highly motivated and have clear research and career goals alongside English-language proficiency. Looking ahead, such skills make them well placed to become societal elites and serve as advocates for advancing bilateral ties, she said.

International Dance Night and International Cultural Booth are among the many extracurricular activities organized by TMU to promote mutual understanding and friendship between foreign and domestic students. (Photos courtesy of Taipei Medical University)

International Dance Night and International Cultural Booth are among the many extracurricular activities organized by TMU to promote mutual understanding and friendship between foreign and domestic students. (Photos courtesy of Taipei Medical University)

Global System

Huang Po-tsang (黃博滄), vice dean of the Office of International and Cross-Strait Education at Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU) in the northern metropolis of Taoyuan, argues internationalization of higher education is a long-term trend, one that Taiwan’s institutions must quickly adapt to given the declining cohorts of domestic students entering the system each year. This entails devising new globally minded curriculums while attracting staffers and partners equipped to operate in the new environment.

Government grants have a crucial role to play in the internationalization process, Huang said, adding the ESP in particular has helped drive recruitment on postgraduate courses. “The program is a real attraction for students from Southeast Asia and is quickly becoming a calling card for local universities recruiting in the region.”

According to Huang, demand for highly skilled talent in Southeast Asia is at an all-time high as the region’s economies grow quickly due to industrialization and inflows of foreign investment. To tap into this burgeoning market, CYCU set up its Office of the New Southbound Project in 2017 to initiate various cooperation, exchange and student recruitment initiatives.

CYCU has since forged sisterhood ties with approximately 100 schools in Southeast Asia to promote student and teacher exchanges. There are 20 ESP recipients enrolled in the university’s doctoral programs including 13 from Indonesia, four from the Philippines and three from Vietnam.

Huang is impressed by ESP students’ engagement in the classroom, which is backed by their strong learning outcomes. “These individuals have professional experience and are well suited to carrying out research,” he said. “They’re also excellent members of the community keen to get involved in extracurricular activities.”

Model Students

Challoner Matero from the Philippines, an ESP student currently pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting at CYCU, is a prime example. His outstanding performance at the university enabled him to gain membership of Beta Gamma Sigma, an international business honor society based in the U.S. The group recognizes high-performing students from around the world in business schools accredited by Florida-headquartered Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

For the past 20 years Matero served as a faculty member in the Department of Accountancy at University of San Carlos in Cebu. He came to study in CYCU’s College of Business in 2018 because the institution is accredited by AACSB, indicating its excellence in all areas of education.

International business requires a contextual understanding of the world’s various cultures, Matero said, adding that studying in Taiwan had given him a deeper knowledge of local society and people while helping him develop the competencies needed for career success.

Matero therefore considers CYCU’s requirement for foreign students to take Mandarin language classes and examinations before graduation a good practice. “As Mandarin is increasingly used in the business world, especially in Asia, the ability to speak it definitely provides an edge on my CV,” he said.

The Filipino is encouraged to learn about the importance Taiwan places on Southeast Asia through promotion of the NSP, and he is firm in the belief that there is more room for collaboration in the region. “With my expertise, Mandarin skills and cultural sensitivity, I look forward to promoting Taiwan businesses in the Philippines and hope for future expansion of bilateral trade and investment,” he added.

Determination from academics like Matero, Nguyen and Fitriana to stimulate further collaboration between Taiwan and Southeast Asia after completing their studies bodes well for the future, and is testament to the effectiveness of the ESP, according to CYCU’s Huang. “Establishing this scholarship program has brought clear benefits to industry, students and universities—everyone’s a winner.”

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