China / China

Taiwan students flock to mainland colleges

By Zhang Yi and Luo Wangshu (China Daily) Updated: 2018-06-06 07:22

Brighter job prospects and a stronger economy have sparked a surge in applications from residents of the island, as Zhang Yi and Luo Wangshu report.

In April, Yin Min-chi, a sophomore at Tsinghua University in Beijing who comes from Taiwan, spent five days showing a group of high school graduates from the island around the university campus and China's capital.

In 2016, Yin was a member of a similar tour group. As a prospective student with an outstanding academic record, she was taken on the tour by some senior students. Two years later, she is the tour guide, sharing her experiences with prospective newcomers.

"This year more students from Taiwan have applied to mainland universities. Tsinghua has invited more than usual to make the trip because they all have higher exam scores and better all-around ability than those in previous years," she said.

The tour was provided for candidates from Taiwan who have applied for the undergraduate program at Tsinghua, one of China's top universities. The trip allowed them to explore the campus and Beijing.

The number of students from Taiwan who have applied to study at mainland universities has risen significantly this year, and applications to Xiamen University in Fujian province have soared, according to Tang Yonghong, deputy director of the Taiwan Research Center at the college.

This year's statistics are not yet available, but universities nationwide have certainly noticed the surge in applications from Taiwan - approximately 200 people have applied to Xiamen University alone, about five times the number last year.

Meanwhile, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, has received applications from about 600 students from the island, also about five times last year's total, according to the admissions office.

The latest available statistics from the Ministry of Education show that 7,346 students from Taiwan studied at mainland universities in 2011, but by 2015, the number had risen to 10,870.

Brighter prospects

Tang said the rise in the number of applications from Taiwan is a result of the mainland's rapid economic development and improvements in the quality of its higher education sector.

"The mainland's economic progress is a root cause, along with more-favorable policies and a larger number of job opportunities compared with Taiwan. The island's slowing economy means there are not enough jobs for graduates. Many have to leave the island to search for work. Studying at a mainland university will help them to become familiar with the local environment and also make friends before they begin searching for a job," he said.

"Most mainland companies treat these graduates the same as locals in terms of hiring, and the salaries for some jobs are actually higher than in Taiwan."

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office at the State Council, China's Cabinet, said the rising number of applicants from Taiwan demonstrates that young people from the island find developments on the mainland appealing.

Tsui Te-hui, a second-year law student at Tsinghua who hails from Kaohsiung in the south of Taiwan, started at the university in 2016.

"Taiwan's economy is slowing, so things are not looking optimistic and the future is uncertain. I wanted to explore the mainland to learn what people thought about things, so I applied to many colleges," he said.

Another student from Taiwan, Cai You-ting, a 21-year-old junior at Xiamen University, said more students from the island are interested in studying in the mainland because of its growing economic vitality and job opportunities.

Equal treatment

This year, the central government has rolled out 31 measures aimed at ensuring that people from Taiwan who study or work in the mainland enjoy the same treatment as local people.

"These favorable policies are gaining popularity among students from Taiwan and that trend will continue," said Ma, from the Taiwan Affairs Office.

The government has also lowered academic entry thresholds to attract more applicants from the island.

In 2010, the Ministry of Education began allowing Taiwan students to use the score they obtained in the island's college entrance exam as the basis for their application to mainland universities.

When the policy was introduced, only the top 12 percent of students who had taken the Taiwan exam were allowed to apply to mainland universities, but in 2011 the net was widened to include the top 25 percent. Last year, the top 50 percent became eligible.

"The change is designed to give more students from Taiwan the opportunity to study in the mainland," said Tang, from Xiamen University.

The lowering of the entry threshold does not mean mainland universities will allow standards to slip, though, and they are determined to maintain academic standards.

Zhang Wanyun, deputy director of the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Students and Scholars Center at Tsinghua, said the surge in applications from the island has resulted in much fiercer competition among prospective candidates, who know that only a small number will be accepted.

An official from the admissions office at Sun Yat-sen University said the quality of prospective students from Taiwan has been higher than usual this year. The school has selected 200 for interview, but only plans to enroll 60 of them.

"The basic requirement for an interview at our university is that they have to be in the top 25 percent in the Taiwan university entrance examination," the official said.

The policy is even tighter at Xiamen University, where all 200 students from Taiwan who have applied are in the top 12 percent of those who took the island's entry exam.

Entry exams

Students from Taiwan can gain admission to mainland universities by taking one of two exams.

The first is the Taiwan entry exam, which is held on the island in January, and those who apply via this method are usually born and raised on the island. For many, applying to a college in the mainland is probably their first independent encounter with the outside world.

The second option is to take an exam designed for the children of people from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan who live and work in the mainland. Students in this category have usually attended schools in the mainland and are familiar with the education system.

According to Zhang, about 400 students from Taiwan are studying at Tsinghua.

"They live and study with other students and receive the same treatment as students from the mainland. Many on undergraduate courses prefer majors such as computing or electronics, which they think will make them more competitive in the job market," she said.

"In recent years, we have received more applications via the island's entry exam. That suggests that more people who have never studied in the mainland are now interested in studying here. The reasons vary a lot. Some think Tsinghua is a good university, which is something they learn from older students, while others just want to leave the island to explore the wider world."

Tsui, the law student at Tsinghua, was initially ambivalent about studying at the university, but he changed his mind when he joined a tour group.

"Tsinghua was not the first choice among the top five universities I applied to, but I changed my mind when I visited the campus for the interview during the university's anniversary celebrations. The down-to-earth atmosphere impressed me a lot," he recalled.

He added that the annual fees at mainland universities - 5,000 yuan ($780) for tuition and 900 yuan for accommodation - are much more affordable than those in Taiwan, the United States or Canada.

Yin Min-chi, now a top journalism student and an enthusiastic participant in on-campus activities, said she will always remember the date April 30, 2016, because that was when she heard that her application to Tsinghua had been successful.

"I am eager to share my experiences at the university with newcomers and show them the excellent resources. I hope they will also have a wonderful campus life here," she said.

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 Taiwan students flock to mainland colleges

A teacher at Fuzhou Senior High School, Fujian province, explains the school's history to high school students from Taiwan and their peers from Fujian during a summer youth camp which was attended by more than 100 students from the island and the mainland.Liu Kegeng / For China Daily

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