Scholars discuss obstacles to promoting Taiwan studies worldwide

2018/09/08 20:30:31 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Photo courtesy of Academia Sinica

Photo courtesy of Academia Sinica

Taipei, Sept. 8 (CNA) The lack of consistent funding to sustain Taiwan studies programs at overseas universities and the China factor were identified as among the major challenges facing the wider promotion of the discipline by international scholars attending a triennial gathering held in Taipei Sept. 6-8.

The 3rd World Congress of Taiwan Studies, a platform set up in 2012 for the world's leading Taiwan studies scholars to share their research and experience in running Taiwan-related programs, concluded Saturday.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) first began to give grants to Taiwan studies programs at international universities in 2003. It now partners with 64 universities in 24 countries in running collaborative projects.

Over the last 14 years, the ministry, one of several public funding sources, has provided US$12 million for such programs, said Andy Bi (畢祖安), head of the Department of International and Cross-Strait Education, at the congress Saturday.

The funding was mainly used to help international universities establish Taiwan studies courses, sponsor scholarly visit and exchanges, issue Taiwan studies publications, provide scholarships, hold academic activities and enrich databases and archive, Bi said.

"We are still envisioning new projects," Bi added, including the possibility of helping international universities create more full-time teaching positions.

Bi's comment was a positive response to the "Manifesto for the Further Development and Entrenchment of Taiwan Studies Within Global Academia," a joint statement 21 scholars, mostly from countries in Europe, co-signed and presented at the congress.

The manifesto urged Taiwan's government to create an integrated public funding structure to coordinate its funding and to support the development of Taiwan studies more effectively so as to institutionalize Taiwan studies within global academia.

Scott Simon, who represents Taiwan Studies at Ottawa University, said Saturday that a big challenge faced by the institution is the lack of consistent funding.

Ottawa University has had an extensive range of exchange programs with several universities in Taiwan and it has given Taiwan priority at its very highest level, even selecting Taiwan as one of the 12 countries it partners with under its innovative International Research Acceleration Program, Simon said.

When he talked about difficulties, he said that one of the most important is that "funding needs to be more consistent."

"We have to re-apply every now and then. I think it is important that it doesn't break down. This is a good investment for Taiwan to make," Simon said.

In the case of SOAS University in London, Dafydd Fell, director of the university's Center of Taiwan Studies, said that while the U.K. has about seven universities with courses on Taiwan, SOAS is the only one that has a course with Taiwan in the title.

"Of course, running Taiwan studies course isn't easy. We were constantly under pressure -- do we have enough students?" Fell said, but with right design, strategies and luck, "teaching programs can be sustainable."

Fell said that short-term funding has been a core topic among Taiwan studies scholars. "We have been very lucky that we have continuous Taiwan funding since 1999. MOE funding is quite critical to the way we expand it. Again that takes persuasion."

Gunter Schubert, director of the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan based in the University of Tubingen, Germany, said that almost no faculty positions for Taiwan studies scholars have been created in universities in the West for the past 15 years, despite the steady development of Taiwan studies.

In addition to funding issues that need to be addressed, Schubert suggested that Taiwan studies scholars should argue that Taiwan studies are an indispensable complement to China studies as a way of persuading universities to create faculty positions for Taiwan studies scholars.

"China is and will always be the 'big elephant' that you cannot do away with when arguing for faculty positions for Taiwan (studies) scholars," Schubert said in his presentation Friday.

It is much better to reason for an institutionalized Taiwan studies field within a Western University by intellectually engaging a rising China than attempting to distance Taiwan from China or de-linking Taiwan studies from China studies, he said.

Schubert's suggestion rose some eyebrows in the audience and was laster asked whether such an approach would not pave the way for China to suppressing the development of Taiwan studies in Western universities.

If you want to convince university authorities that you need Taiwan studies scholars, you can't do so without making a point concerning China, because China studies scholars and their departments are very institutionalized in the universities, Schubert said when asked by CNA to elaborate on his point.

“You have to make an argument why Taiwan is important to understand China. Otherwise it’s really hard to convince department colleagues in university authorities to integrate Taiwan scholars in that department,” he said.

A participant who represents the newly established Taiwan Institute at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. said Saturday that the university supports the Institute but is worried about possible repercussions.

"We regularly got asked what would happen if China says anything about it," he said, asking the panelists to share experiences in dealing with pressure from China.

Simon told a story from a few years ago in which the university bowed to the China's embassy in Ottawa after it protested over the appearance of a Republic of China flag on a website promoting an event hosted by his institution.

The flag was taken down from the website and "we were told that we shall never again use any symbol or language that might offend the Chinese embassy in Ottawa," he said.

"We can't let ourselves be censored by a foreign embassy. But, there is a danger ahead of us. We have to aware of that and we have to have a strategy," Simon said.

Government advised to promote Taiwan studies worldwide

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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