Taipei, March 8 (CNA) A probe into which colleges and universities have signed so-called "one China" consensus pledges is still ongoing, Education Minister Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said Wednesday, denying his deputy's earlier revelation that over 30 percent of such institutes have done so.
Deputy Education Minister Yao Leeh-ter (姚立德) gave the figure while answering questions from a lawmaker at the Legislative Yuan about the issue. However, several hours later, Pan told the press that the probe has not been completed and that many schools have still not yet reported to his ministry if they have signed such pledges.
The reporting deadline is set for March 9, Pan said, which means that so far "even I don't know (how many)."
He explained that Yao might have been nervous when replying to questions from lawmakers, since he has only been in the post for two days. Yao was president of National Taipei University of Technology before assuming office as deputy education minister on March 6.
In 2016, the number of colleges and universities in Taiwan was 158, and the number of students from China studying here reached 41,981, according to Ministry of Education data.
At a legislative committee hearing on cooperative education programs, Yao also said that the controversial pledges are in different forms, with some touching on Article 33-3 of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.
The article stipulates that "any level of school of the Taiwan Area that wishes to form any coalition or engage in any other cooperative activity or any written agreement with any school of the Mainland Area shall submit a file to the Ministry of Education in advance."
Any such coalition, or the content of any cooperation agreement, must not violate the relevant laws or regulations or involve content of a political nature. Violators can be punished with a fine of up to NT$500,000 (US$16,177), according to the act.
Asked by lawmaker Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) of the opposition Kuomintang if schools have violated the act by signing "one China" pledges, Yao did not comment.
Lee said that the issue has triggered debates on campus. Also, it is very important for private schools to be able to work with foreign students, she said, while questioning if the Ministry of Education's stance on the controversy is objective.
The issue came to light a week earlier when it was reported that Shih Hsin University's School of Lifelong Learning had signed a pledge in December not to include in its classes any politically sensitive subjects or activities related to "one China, one Taiwan," "two Chinas" or "Taiwan independence."
The university reportedly admitted 11 students from China for the February to June semester.
In addition to Shih Hsin, several other universities that maintain cooperative links with their counterparts in China, including National Tsing Hua University, have also reported having signed such pledges, which are called "one China" consensus pledges for their commitment not to conduct Taiwan independence, "one China, one Taiwan" or "two Chinas" activities.
In an effort to address the controversy, the ministry has said it will draft guidelines for universities to use for reference when engaging in student exchanges with their Chinese counterparts, to ensure adherence to the principles of academic freedom, equality and reciprocity.
(By Chen Chih-chung, Yu Hsiao-han and Elizabeth Hsu)