Academic exchanges represent effective tools for the soft power strategies of a Country. This is true for countries with an important role in the international community, but even more important for those with less political and international weight. This is why Taiwan represents an interesting case about how a country can shape is future through the means of soft power and, more specifically, through the means of international fellowships and scholarships.
International fellowships contribute huge benefits to the sponsoring country. Scholars are an important source of talent, skill, and diverse perspectives, that can boost the visibility and echo other scholars over different issues, bridge academic networks focused on different fields, and promote – sometimes even lead – the direction of the public debate. This is why scholarships represent nowadays effective tools in promoting and enhancing a country’s soft power.
In this regard, Taiwan, to foster its image in the world – while challenged by the increasing pressure of the Chinese regime -, has set up some scholarships and fellowship to promote its academic exchanges. In 2004, the Executive Yuan announced the “Taiwan Scholarship and Huayu Enrichment Scholarship Program”, a joint project of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Science and Technology, concerned with the areas of education, diplomacy, economics and academic innovation.
One of the goals of the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship are to bring to Taiwan foreign students who are interested in the Mandarin language, to promote Mandarin and traditional Chinese writing, and to increase foreign students’ understanding of the culture and historical development of Taiwan. Another one is the belief that cultivating young talents from abroad will establish a long-term cooperative relationship between Taiwan and other countries, promoting economic, commercial, educational and cultural exchanges, and improving Taiwan’s global competitiveness and international visibility.
Furthermore, Taiwan, in order to foster its image in the world under the huge pressure from China, established in 2010 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Taiwan Fellowship, awarding foreign experts and scholars interested in researches related to Taiwan, cross-strait relations, Asia-Pacific region and Sinology in order to conduct advanced research at universities or academic institutions in Taiwan. Since 2010, there have been 934 scholars from 78 countries being accepted by this program. MOFA Taiwan Fellowship, echoing the APEC Scholarship Initiative, provides 12 Chinese Taipei APEC Fellowship openings per year exclusively for scholars and experts from developing APEC economies.
The importance of Taiwan case is based on the fact that, although promoting a country specific goals in the international system, soft power can be a tool able to produce positive externalities that affect the sponsoring country as well as the others involved in the process.
Moreover it has to be considered that the trend of globalization has affected higher education all around the world. International exchanges and cooperation are needed in all facets of higher education, including educational theory and pedagogy, resources, innovation and cultivation of talent. Allowing young students from all over the world to understand and have exchanges with other cultures is an important step in allowing young scholars to face multifaceted global reality. Exchanges among distinguished young people around the world will open up the eyes of young exchange students to new cultures. The countries which receive or admit these exchange students will also be stimulated and revitalized by them; their educational environments will become more diverse, holistic, and universal in their outlook. Therefore, the countries participating in exchange programs can often benefit from a win-win cooperative relationship.