Taiwan Indigenous Students Study Overseas—A Choice Between Food and Tuition Fees

Written by Nikal Kabala’an (Margaret Yun-Pu Tu) .

Image credit: 無以名狀的快樂與悲傷 by ping Lin/ Flickr: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) is the highest authority of the Republic of China (ROC) government in implementing educational policies in Taiwan, which includes governmental-led Indigenous education. In April 2020, MoE published the “Indigenous Education Yearbook of the Republic of China (1945-2018)” (中華民國原住民族教育年鑑). The Yearbook looks back at the history of Indigenous education and concludes that assimilation was the goal from 1945 (the year ROC took over Taiwan from Japan at the end of WWII) to the 1980s.

Fortunately, followed by the Indigenous movements and the social progress in Taiwan, for the past thirty years, MoE started to develop Indigenous education with fundamental concepts such as multicultural, equal opportunities, and most importantly, the Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education. As a result, MoE has designed new Indigenous education projects and passed or amended related laws and regulations several times. A recent example was in 2019 when MoE was responsible for the amendment of “Regulations Regarding Secured Admission for Indigenous Students and Government Scholarships for Indigenous People to Study Overseas” (原住民學生升學保障及原住民公費留學辦法)

This article focuses on the “Scholarships for Indigenous People to Study Overseas” (Hereinafter “the Scholarships”). The MoE sponsors the Scholarships to support Indigenous students in studying abroad. Only applicants with the ROC formally recognized Indigenous identity in compliance with the Status Act For Indigenous Peoples (原住民身分法) are eligible, while many Pingpu peoples whose official status is denied by the ROC government are still awaiting for recognition

Indigenous Scholarship Recipients 

The Scholarships were deployed owing to the Education Act for Indigenous Peoples (原住民族教育法), which stipulates, “Government Scholarships for Overseas Studies shall also reserve several scholarships for Indigenous students to ensure that outstanding Indigenous people have opportunities to nurture and develop their skills and potential.” in Article 23. I am honoured to be one of the Scholarship recipients. Based on the Scholarships recipient lists, data open for the public to access on the official website of the Department of International and Cross-strait Education (國際及兩岸教育司) under MoE, the first recipients can be traced back to 2013. 

Source: Create by Nikal Kabala’an from the Scholarships recipient lists
(Data access on the official website of the Department of International and Cross-strait Education)

In a total of 109 Scholarship recipients from 2013 to the latest 2021, where do Indigenous students study overseas? Including myself, there is an evident tendency for Taiwan Indigenous students to study in the United States (US) (56 students: over 50% of the total recipients). But, then, it is the United Kingdom (UK) (23 students). 

Source: Created by Nikal Kabala’an from the Scholarships recipient lists (data access on the official website of the Department of International and Cross-strait Education). A Map generated via Microsoft Excel (Copyright listed on the Map)

The Scholarships are in two parts: Tuition Fees and Living Expenses. Each recipient must sign a contract with the MoE before heading to study aboard. In that contract, there is a ceiling on tuition fees and a fixed rate of living expenses. I appreciate receiving the Scholarships; I would not study in the US if the MoE had not sponsored me. Yet, somehow, inflation is the reality.

Challenges for Scholarship Recipients

I am studying at the University of Washington in Seattle, a Washington State University with low tuition fees compared to those Ivy League or private universities in the US. Still, my tuition fees every quarter (four quarters a year; only one quarter can be enrolled in less than ten credits) is around USD 15,000. Tuition fees correspond to the credits enrolled, but I must register this many credits to maintain my student VISA status to comply with the US government regulation as an international student sponsored by the ROC government.

When this high amount of tuition fees encounters the ceiling covered by the MoE in the signed contract of the Scholarships, the outcome is that although I am only in the second year of my PhD in Law study, I have already used up most of the Scholarships in tuition fees. A crisis is a turnaround; it depends on the mindset. Although under extremely high pressure, the lack of Scholarships to cover tuition fees urges me to accomplish more–so that I will have more chances to explore other funding opportunities in the US in the future years until I acquire my credential.

On another page is the fixed rate of living expenses based on the cities categorized in the contract of the Scholarships. Again, use the US as an example:

The living expenses fixed rate has no sign of changing corresponding to the living environment. Yet, inflation had risen faster recently, which was unforeseeable when the Indigenous students signed the contract before leaving home. This July (July 18, 2022), the US Bureau of Labour Statistics published in The Economics Daily that “Consumer prices up 9.1 per cent over the year ended June 2022, largest increase in 40 years”. The same struggle also happened across the ocean in the second most popular country for Taiwan Indigenous students to study overseas. Last month (July 20, 2022) UK Office for National Statistics released the “inflation and price indices” of 8.2 per cent in JuneBBC News also reported that “UK inflation rises at the fastest rate for 40 years as food costs jump”

MoE has been paying significant efforts in the governmental-led Indigenous education in Taiwan. I am benefitting from the Scholarships, and I am truly thankful to have earned this opportunity as one of the Indigenous students who study overseas supported by the MoE. However, I would appreciate it if the government officials could review the design of the Scholarships to reflect the current inflation issues. Moreover, since the Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education, multicultural, and equal opportunities are some of the current key concepts for MoE to plan the related policies, I suggest the authorities could consider more about the Scholarships following the starting point in supporting Indigenous students to study aboard, including the eligibility of Indigenous legal status, to form a more comprehensive to the governmental-led Indigenous educational policies.

Nikal Kabala’an (a.k.a. Margaret Yun-Pu Tu) is a PhD student at the School of Law, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. 

This article was published as part of a special issue on “Taiwanese scholarship of government sponsorship for overseas study.”

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