Remarks by Director Brent Christensen at
The Forum on International High-Tech Education Exchange
Oct. 8, 2019
Deputy Minister Liu, Director General Chiu, Chancellor Block, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, wu an!
It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to this important event, which touches upon the very foundations of the U.S-Taiwan relationship – namely robust educational exchange and technology cooperation. Because our predecessors got these two right 30-40 years ago, today we now enjoy a U.S.-Taiwan relationship that has never been stronger. If we hope to ensure this trajectory continues for the next generation, however, it is vital that we lay today a similar foundation for the digital future.
The benefits of international education exchange are on full display in Taiwan. A surprisingly large share of Taiwan’s top leaders – in business, government, academia, and law – have experience studying or working in the United States. Educational exchange is not just about acquiring knowledge in the classroom, but about assimilating the common values that bind our two economies together. Through decades of educational exchange, I think it is safe to say Taiwan’s culture today has far more in common with the United States and other free societies than it does with China. Taiwan now has a culture of freedom and belongs to a community of democracies. Reinforcing these cultural ties through promoting educational exchange is, in the final analysis, perhaps Taiwan’s best insurance for the future of its democracy.
We see a similar story in high-tech industries. Much of Taiwan’s technology industry was established by people who studied in the United States and came back to found what are now some of Taiwan’s most successful companies. This is especially true in the semiconductor industry, with giants such as TSMC’s Morris Chang and Etron’s Nicky Lu. When Taiwan’s talent studies or works in the United States, they return equipped not only with the skills and vision to succeed in Taiwan, but also the personal connections that form the glue of U.S.-Taiwan technology cooperation. AppWorks Founder Jamie Lin, one of the most successful examples of his generation, said when he was in the United States he saw Taiwan’s future, and he returned to bring it about.
We have gathered with us here today arguably the most important people who will shape the future of internationally-oriented education in Taiwan. The choices all of you make will shape Taiwan’s future more than any decision made by any government official. China is intent on not only usurping Taiwan’s traditional role in global ICT supply chains, but also on capturing Taiwan’s top talent. Taiwan’s long-term future depends upon successfully making the transition to an innovation-based economy. From the United States’ experience, we would argue the key to such a transition lies in making the right reforms to international and high-tech education.
I would like to highlight three examples from the United States that could serve as useful references for future educational reform here in Taiwan.
First, the secret sauce of U.S. innovation is close collaboration between academia, industry, and research institutions. In many ways, we can think of these as the three legs of the stool of an innovation society. The more we can bring these three together, the more their work will become mutually reinforcing. Governments invest tremendous resources in all three, yet innovation remains slow. If instead investments were made to synchronize the efforts of these three, economically viable innovations will more likely to be a natural result. In this light, we are particularly pleased by the Ministry of Science and Technology’s increased focus on promoting closer academia-industry-and research collaboration. In our experience, this is exactly the right approach.
Second, the top-tier U.S. universities are reimagining themselves as startup incubators. Virtually all innovation clusters in the United States emerged out of anchor Universities. Silicon Valley largely emerged out of Stanford, maybe with some UCLA input. The Research Triangle in North Carolina grew out of Duke, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Austin’s technological renaissance arose from U.T. Austin. The list goes on. These universities now measure their success not by how many articles they publish in journals, but rather by how many startups they launch. They view the people in their classrooms not as students, but as the future founders of innovative companies. Business schools and engineering programs are coming out of their silos and merging through offering joint programs, especially in areas like AI programming. We are just now starting to see similar changes happening in Taiwan, but if Taiwan is going to succeed in transitioning to an innovation-based society, I would argue that Taiwan’s universities also need to become startup incubators. This one reform could change everything – for students, for professors, and for Taiwan’s innovative future.
Third, universities in the United States have aggressively recruited top talent from around the world. Innovations arise best out of a diverse context. If everybody thinks and acts the same, innovation rarely happens. International students bring unique experiences that can enrich the diversity of Taiwan’s workforce. Demographic challenges in Taiwan are resulting in fewer domestic students, putting strains on the future enrollment of Taiwan’s universities, but actively encouraging foreign students to come to Taiwan could compensate for demographics. As China turns increasingly inward, students who would have otherwise gone to China can now come to Taiwan. In particular, New Southbound countries have an abundance of extraordinary talented individuals who might not be able to afford to go to the United States, Europe, or Australia, but could come to Taiwan. There is no reason why Taiwan cannot become a hub for high-tech education in the Indo-Pacific. If Taiwan offered high-quality, innovation-based education – in English – people would come from all over the world. This would not only be a boon for Taiwan’s universities, but it would also build the educational and cultural connections between Taiwan and like-minded partners that would pay dividends for decades to come.
As many of you know, the United States and Taiwan recently launched a major new initiative called the Talent Circulation Alliance, or TCA. It seeks to facilitate not only educational exchange between Taiwan and its partners around the world, but also professional exchanges, such as internships and professional secondments. The TCA seeks nothing short of a complete paradigm shift in how we think about educational exchange – we must move towards a “life-long-learning model” where international education exchange is the heart of the beginning, middle, and end of a person’s career. The philosopher Ivan Illich once argued that we live in a “schooled society” where educational institutions have a monopoly on learning. If we are to move into an innovative digital age, we must become “learning societies” where every part of society – academia, government, industry, and civil society – becomes an institution of higher learning. The TCA – by promoting life-long exchange across all institutions – is a valuable vehicle for bringing about such change.
Educational exchange and technology cooperation will be key to Taiwan becoming an innovation-based economy. As we move deeper into the digital age, we look forward to continuing to work with the Taiwan authorities and with all of you to help bring about this vision.