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In Taiwan, a shrinking youth population sparks competition among universities

Taiwanese universities must demonstrate the impact of their research, recruit international faculty, and support global collaboration

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This composite image features Taiwan’s Chaoyang University of Technology, National Taiwan Normal University and Asia University.

As a result of the aging population, Taiwanese colleges and universities must find ways to remain competitive to attract and retain students from an ever-shrinking pool of candidates.

The combination of a drastic increase in the number of universities in Taiwan over the past three decades and a decreasing nationwide birth rate has led to an oversupply of universities and declining student enrollment. Dr. Lee Yen-yi, Director General of the Higher Education Department at Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, reported to Taiwan Business TOPICS that projected new student enrollment for the 2015-16 academic year dropped to 250,000 students, down from 270,000 the year before — a decline of 7.4 percent in one year. Meanwhile, Taiwan has as many as 151 universities on the small island as of August 2016, according to ICEF Monitor.

In the midst of this complicated and challenging academic environment, some Taiwanese universities are finding that Elsevier’s data and analytics offered through SciVal and Scopus are helping them develop research strategies that will enable them to stay competitive.

The rapid growth in the number of colleges and universities resulted in part from governmental policy emphasizing the importance of higher education in Taiwan. However, according to Taiwan Business TOPICS, the Taiwan Ministry of Education’s past “head-counting” approach encouraged quantity over quality, allocating funds to institutions based on the number of students enrolled. Many colleges and technical schools were also allowed to transition into full-fledged universities at the same time, spreading students and funding among even more universities.

Colleges and universities in Taiwan are addressing the issue of declining student enrollment in a number of ways. To reduce costs, some universities have plans to merge, while others are pooling resources by forming alliances. Several Taiwanese universities have already formally merged, and in 2015, the government outlined plans to merge or close up to 52 of Taiwan’s public and private universities, according to ICEF Monitor. Other institutions will shift to different types of educational models.

International rankings, such as the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings, are taken into consideration by universities worldwide, but Taiwan’s academic environment raises the stakes for staying competitive internationally. Taiwan university strategies today often emphasize the objective of becoming ranked internationally or improving their stance in these global rankings in order to attract more international students. With these goals in mind, many Taiwanese universities are pressured to demonstrate the impact of their research, recruit international faculty and support international collaboration.

“Usually we have to provide concrete evidence of our performance to persuade the institutional organization to provide a budget,” said Dr. Yao-Ting Sung, Executive Vice President of National Taiwan Normal University. “We found that SciVal can provide very clear evidence of our research.”

Chaoyang University of Technology’s President, Dr. Tao-ming Cheng, aims for his university to be ranked globally by either the THE or QS rankings and to be ranked in the top 350 Asian universities by 2021. In a recent interview, Dr. Cheng explained that Elsevier’s SciVal and Scopus play a role in reaching these goals by helping to facilitate international collaboration, provide faculty incentives for increased research publication and identify the university’s strengths and areas for improvement.


Chaoyang University of Technology President Dr. Tao-ming Cheng discusses his goals for the university to be ranked globally and in the top 350 Asian universities by 2021.


Scopus is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, including scientific journals, books and conference proceedings. Using data from Scopus, SciVal enables institutions like Chaoyang to visualize research performance, benchmark relative to peers, develop collaborative partnerships and analyze research trends.

“SciVal is a very convenient way for students and faculty to access all different kinds of papers and publications,” explained Dr. Jeffrey J.P. Tsai, President of Asia University in Taichung City. “We also use this database to help us analyze our university’s strengths and weaknesses and we build on this to improve our ranking.

SciVal helps universities visualize and benchmark research performance, offering access to the performance of 8,500+ research institutions around the world. Some universities in Taiwan are using the tool to help them develop competitive research strategies.

Elsevier Senior Customer Marketer Weiwei Cheng works frequently with institutions across Taiwan and has heard similar stories about the ways SciVal helps institutions collaborate internationally in order to increase their rankings.

The analytical reports generated using SciVal can help them understand how to position themselves when compared with other universities. But I think the research role nowadays is not just about competing but also about collaborating. Universities should know themselves and their strengths and weaknesses, but they should also know other universities. When they seek collaboration, SciVal helps them determine which groups they should be working with.

Anders Karlsson, PhDLike Taiwan, Japan and Korea face similarly challenging academic environments with aging and declining populations, said Dr. Anders Karlsson, Elsevier’s VP of Academic Relations for the Asia-Pacific region. Universities in Japan and Korea are also trying to compete for international students by identifying their strengths and working to increase their standing in the rankings.

“In this global and connected world, competing with other globally aspiring universities, I believe they need to showcase their unique strengths in order to have a chance to compete,” Dr. Karlsson said. “Uniqueness and strengths in research often also translate into brand strength, which is of interest to prospective students.”

Taiwan government projections have suggested that university enrollment will continue to decline in the near future in Taiwan, falling by about a third in the coming decade, and spurring more university mergers and closures. Further compounding the enrollment issue, many Taiwanese students today are seeking university options abroad. A Ministry of Education program called the Road to Top Notch Universities Project was started in 2011 with the intention of providing NT$50 billion (US$1.6 billion) in funding over five years to support Taiwanese universities’ research facilities and international reputations, but the budget for the program has since been cut, according to the Taipei Times. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education announced in late 2016 that it aims to double the country’s international student enrollment to about 58,000 by 2019.

While the future of Taiwanese higher education is uncertain, Dr. Karlsson said he’s confident that SciVal and Scopus can help Taiwanese universities strengthen their strategies to survive the challenging academic environment. Benchmarking against other universities and showcasing their own unique strengths will be especially important, he said.

“The best way to not move forward is to be complacent,” Karlsson said, “and we believe working more with analytics is a way these universities can increase their chances of success.”

Watch our interviews

Watch our full interview with Chaoyang University of Technology’s President, Dr. Tao-ming Cheng, and interviews with other Taiwan university leaders in Elsevier’s Research Intelligence case study library.

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