The PIE: What has it been like welcoming back international students for the new school year?
Hsiao-Wei Yuan: Schools started back in September and we were busy making arrangements for international students. They are allowed to come to Taiwan but are required to do 14 days quarantine.
We were supposed to be at the airport one hour before their planes landed and then make sure they got into a quarantine taxi, which would drive them to the hotel where we also had staff waiting. Then we monitored them remotely for 14 days to make sure they stayed in the hotel.
“Right now we’re probably one of the few countries people can still have a normal life”
It was a really big operation as we were expecting 1,500 students but then we’ve been dealing with Covid-19 since February this year, and back then we already felt this pandemic was going to affect learning on campus.
The PIE: What have you been doing since February to cope with Covid-19?
HWY: NTU prepared things like online courses, made sure each building had a monitor and tracing machine, and rotated staff between working in the office and at home.
But we knew it was going to be a problem, especially as NTU is located in Taipei, the biggest city in Taiwan.
We not only have students and faculty, but we also cooperate with a lot of institutions and a lot of residents nearby use NTU for leisure activities such as exercising and visiting the night market. So it’s a busy place.
Students could still go to classrooms. We had a rule that if there were over 100 individuals in a classroom, some would have to be online, and all students had to wear the mask.
The government said that if any university had two confirmed Covid-19 cases they would need to shut down the campus. We never shut down.
The PIE: How did Taiwan prepare to open the borders to international students in time for the new academic year?
HWY: Right now we’re probably one of the few countries people can still have a normal life. A lot of cases in Taiwan are from overseas so we needed to get ready.
First of all, Taiwan only opened the borders to degree students from 19 countries with a low risk of Covid-19. We had to present a name list to the Ministry of Education and they made sure those people could get a visa.
Later on we opened to every country. It was like we practised with the first 19 countries and since the procedures went very smoothly we opened to all degree students.
“There are some students that haven’t come, maybe because they feel safer at home”
Visiting exchange students however still can’t come this semester and I feel very sorry about that because this is a big quantity of students. But we are expecting exchange students to come to Taiwan next February.
The PIE: Compared to other countries, Taiwan’s quarantine measures are very comprehensive. How is it funded?
HWY: Back in February quarantine was funded by universities. But now there are such a large number of students that the government subsidises those with an alien residence certificate.
They can get about US$33 per day, which is between half and one third of the cost. Then the university helps disadvantaged students with another US$15 per day.
The PIE: Are all the expected international students arriving in Taiwan?
HWY: There are some students that haven’t come, maybe because they feel safer at home even though Taiwan is pretty safe. We offered online registration and courses to those students.
The PIE: What about Taiwanese students who planned to go abroad but can’t?
HWY: In Taiwan, we also have quite a few students that go abroad to study. But now because a pandemic they are temporarily not going to those universities. NTU’s partners requested us to allow their students to study on the NTU campus.
We created a new program, the Covid-19 Visiting Student Program, which allows those students who are supposed to study abroad to take courses for credit here. They just pay some fees so they can use the campus sports centre and library.
The PIE: How has Covid-19 impacted programs like GASE?
HWY: Actually I have two hats. One is vice president at NTU the other is GASE director. The Center for Global Affairs and Science Engagement, run by the Ministry of Science and Technology, is a global talent program.
The program includes promoting international research cooperation and the recognition of Taiwan’s research resources and academic connections, while also cultivating young talent.
Last year international students came to Taiwan and we provided training programs, lectures and culture tours before sending them to different professors’ labs across Taiwan.
Unfortunately, this year they could not come to Taiwan. But we didn’t want to abandon this program so we used virtual learning.
The PIE: And these programmes are all done in English?
HWY: Yes. English is not our native language but we can communicate and teach students. Some staff in the university have difficulties speaking English, but it’s getting better and better.
I think Taiwan’s government realises this is important. English is the most widely used language in the world so they are encouraging the learning of English starting at kindergarten and elementary school.
The PIE: Do most international students study in English?
HWY: Yes. But of course, we have some overseas Chinese from places like Malaysia and Indonesia. They can take Chinese courses so they have more options than those students who cannot speak Mandarin.
Another thing we are we are doing very vigorously is that we are encouraging professors to teach courses in English, and we give the professors funding to change their material from Chinese to English.
The PIE: What international programs is NTU looking at for the future?
HWY: NTU is the top university in Taiwan. This year we ranked 66th in the QS rankings and 97th in THE. But we still have room to improve.
We are now establishing an International College, which will offer master degree programs, and later PhD and bachelors. They will all be in English, though of course we encourage students to learn Mandarin.
“We created a new program which allows those students who are supposed to study abroad to take courses for credit here”
And we also have a trilateral degree program with University of Tsukuba and University of Bordeaux. That’s a very special program. The students enrolled in this programme rotate between universities and afterwards they get three separate degrees.
We also work with Minerva Schools in San Francisco. They don’t have a physical campus so they rotate their students between seven different cities around the world.
Taipei is one of the cities they picked, and specifically NTU, so we work together with them, and we have signed a contract to continue the partnership next year.