Institutions of higher education in Taiwan are conventionally classified by both type and the level of overseeing authority. In descending order of rank, there are four basic classifications: universities, including research institutes or graduate-level programs; colleges, which at the undergraduate level represent the major subdivisions in universities; junior colleges, including both two- and three-year schools, in addition to the five-year institutions already described; and schools. In descending order of prestige, there are four basic classifications of overseeing authority: national, provincial, private, and military and police. As in most other aspects of education in Taiwan, even the categorizing nomenclature that may be assigned to each type of institution is quite strictly regulated. For example, by law, an institution may be called a university only if it is multifaculty and contains at least three undergraduate colleges. During the 1996-1997 academic year, there were 78 colleges and universities in Taiwan, attended by 373,702 students. By far, the most prestigious of Taiwan's universities is Taipei's public National Taiwan University, founded in 1928 as Taihoku Imperial University when the island was under Japanese control.
Since 1945—and especially for the past four decades—the overwhelming favorite subjects in higher education in Taiwan have been engineering and business. For example, figures from the 1983-1984 academic year indicate that, whereas 17 percent of Japanese students and 26 percent of Korean students pursued engineering studies, nearly one-third of all students in Taiwan who were enrolled at the higher education level chose engineering. Moreover, during the same period, a significantly higher percentage of university students studied mathematics and computer science in Taiwan than was the case in either Japan or the Republic of Korea. These and other trends continue as Taiwan continues to invest more heavily in educational areas that emphasize modern technology than even its most technologically advanced neighbors.
There are also, however, many areas in which higher education in Taiwan has already changed rather strikingly, as well as areas of greatly anticipated change. One such change that has already occurred is in the level of women's participation in higher education. In the transitional years, 1964, 1973, and 1985, the proportion of women enrolled as students in higher education increased from 29, to 37, to 43 percent, respectively. That number is continuing to increase each year, and the average educational level of women in Taiwan much surpasses that of women in other rapidly developing Asian nations.
With regard to anticipated change, imminent reforms in university admissions procedures will greatly affect class composition and the interests of students enrolled in higher education in Taiwan in the future. Those reforms are likely to have an even further democratizing and diversifying effect than has occurred to date. Several higher education institutions have already begun, on a trial basis, to admit students who have not taken the JUEE, accepting them instead on the basis of their applications, recommendations, and SAT scores only. In the fall of 2001, a total of 756 departments at 57 universities enrolled 9,864 students via the two methods. Yet another forthcoming change is largely political in nature and is intended as an insurance against any potential onset of the "brain drain" phenomenon, which occurs when greater numbers of Taiwanese students pursue educational opportunities abroad and do not return to their homeland. Beginning in 1997 and culminating in 2000, the MOE has proposed the recognition of academic degrees from accredited colleges and universities on mainland China. This gesture—should it receive legislative support—is doubtless extended as a possible enticement to graduates of mainland institutions. In addition, there is a related proposal pending that will authorize private educators in Taiwan to establish branch schools on the mainland. Both proposals, should they become law, will be implemented gradually, with a mind toward preserving Taiwan's national security.
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