Internationalization, Diversity and Global University Rankings: reflections of a visiting scholar in Taiwan – by Dr Lisa Lucas

After an intense and busy two weeks in Hong Kong, which was a whirlwind of….teaching on the University of Bristol EdD programme, supervising EdD students and conducting a Viva as well as attending our Graduation ceremony for Hong Kong students and an Alumni event at the Conrad Hotel hosted by our new Vice Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady (whew!)…. I arrived for my first trip to Taiwan.

LL3My colleagues and students in Hong Kong had already been talking about the ‘wonderful food’ in Taiwan and indeed, they were right. The amazing variety and the abundance of spectacular seafood was a delight. It struck me whilst wandering around the various night markets where all manner of seafood, including lobster and oysters was available at much more affordable prices for the wider population than would be the case in the UK, that such delicacies are the preserve of a high earning elite. For my part I will miss the Seafood congee that I had for breakfast most mornings.

There is so much to be learned through culture and cuisine but there was also work to be done on this trip, and my interest was in the higher education system in Taiwan. This is a particularly interesting sector because it is extremely large given the relatively modest population of this island.

There are approximately 160 higher education institutions, equivalent to the UK higher education sector but with a population of approximately 20,000 (the UK is at least three times higher). There is an impressive universal participation rate at almost 85%. Much of the recent growth has been in private sector provision of higher education. However, with a rapidly declining birth rate there is wide expectation that the current size of the sector is unsustainable and that many institutions may close or mergers may take place. As reported recently in the Times Higher Education, universities from across Asia are providing more of a challenge to the US and the UK in the Global World University Rankings. This topic was the main focus of my presentations and discussions with colleagues and students in Taiwan.

LL2This research trip was made possible by an International Visiting Scholar award by the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology. I began by travelling to Kaohsiung in the south of Taiwan to meet with my ex-PhD student Barry Tang, now an assistant professor and Professor Susan Leung, based at the Institute of Education in the National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung. I was very pleased to meet colleagues and students in the Institute and to give a talk on ‘Research Assessment and Funding: comparing international perspectives, which was based on a recent article that I had published with Oxford Bibliographies.

In Taiwan there is no national system of research evaluation but there are specific university research evaluation systems and the government has allocated specific funds to encourage the development of ‘World Class’ universities. In 2011, the Ministry of Education allocated 50 billion NT dollars over 5 years to establish top universities in Taiwan.

My next stop was Fu Jen University in Taipei where I was working with colleagues Professor Angela Hou, who is an expert on Quality Assurance, Internationalization and University Rankings and Professor Gregory Ching, an expert in Internationalization and International Student Experiences. I gave a presentation entitled ‘Globalisation, Global League Tables and the Governance of Higher Education’.

We discussed the challenges of global league tables and the dominance of Western universities and the English language. In a view expressed by Professor Hou, with which I agree, she argues that university leaders should not take only a narrowly focused view on research excellence as a way of driving success in global league tables but also consider the longer term values of internationalization and diversity in higher education as well as the quality of teaching and university links with local communities. An important message in thinking about the values and purpose of a university.

LL1I hope to be back in Taiwan soon and look forward to continuing these insightful and fascinating discussions in our future research collaborations and of course eating lots more seafood congee…

Editor’s Note: Dr Lisa Lucas is Senior Lecturer in Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol and a member of the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures. Her research has focused on policy issues in higher education, primarily the funding and evaluation of university research, and she has looked at the impact of this on the university management as well as academic work in different European and Australasian countries. Lisa’s recent publications include, ‘Academic Resistance in the UK: challenging quality assurance processes in higher education’ Policy and Society (2014) and she has just completed a review of ‘Performance-based Research Assessment in Higher Education’ for Oxford Bibliographies. Email: