Taiwan’s higher education system has intentionally been designed to follow a Western model, and in its higher education development there are observable aspects of policies and practices that echo models from the West. However, traditional values still play a significant role in its social and cultural development. Beneath the surface are various unseen facets that are often less institutionalized, but are nevertheless powerful and reflect deep-rooted values of Taiwanese society that persist despite the social, political, economic and cultural changes of the past two centuries.
This paper investigates the development of the higher education system in Taiwan through a cultural lens. In particular, it examines how culture plays a role in the system’s development. Adopting a case study approach, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with selected administrators and academics from two elite universities in Taiwan. The empirical data reflect the tensions inherent in the collision and assimilation of traditional Chinese and Western cultural elements. Three emerging themes fundamental to the process of higher education development in Taiwan were derived from the data analysis: (1) Chinese heritage and cultural conservation, (2) modernity and de-Sinicization, and (3) international visibility.
The study furthers our understanding of how Taiwan’s higher education has undertaken cultural changes through the exhausting process of borrowing and mixing, contributing to a better understanding of East Asian higher education development from a cultural perspective.