Event & News

Tailor-made Programs Attract Vietnamese Students


By Kwangyin Liu 
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 627 

As we enter the classroom at Ho Chi Minh City University of Food Industry (HUFI) we find an instructor from Taiwan teaching students Mandarin Chinese. Why are food technology students in southern Vietnam learning Mandarin?

These second-year students are enrolled in a so-called “two-plus-two” joint bachelor’s degree program between HUFI and Meiho University. The students study two years at home in Vietnam and two years abroad in Taiwan. After completing the course, they will get a bachelor’s degree from Meiho University. Mandarin lessons twice a week prepare them for student life in Taiwan.

Faced with a decline in student numbers due to the low birthrate, Taiwan’s universities are eager to attract students from the member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Some universities offer generous scholarships, while others flaunt their prestige. Yet Meiho University, which is neither rich nor ranks among the island’s top universities, threw in its technical expertise in food science and technology to enter into a promising collaboration with HUFI.

Food Safety Moving to the Fore in Vietnam

Since 2013, Meiho University has assisted Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology in conducting workshops on food security with ASEAN countries. In the space of two years, more than 60 government officials and scholars from eight ASEAN nations were trained in these workshops.

HUFI President Nguyen Xuan Hoan attended one of the workshops, and was deeply impressed by the food analysis laboratory at Meiho. The following year, he struck a deal with the university for a joint program on food technology that is partly taught abroad in Taiwan.

Dang Tan Hiep, head of international affairs at HUFI, has first-hand experience with the quality of higher education in Taiwan because he obtained a doctorate in chemical engineering from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan. “Originally I had been granted a scholarship, and could have gone to France or South Korea for my studies, but I found out that the research area of the NCKU professor was similar to mine. He replied to me very quickly, which gave me a very good impression,” notes Dang in explaining what tipped the scales in favor of Taiwan.

Elaborating, Dang points out that, as the quality of life increases in Vietnam, people are becoming more health conscious. "Before, people did not really care about food safety; they used a lot of preservatives and food coloring. Now more and more people pay close attention to the effects of food on human health and its relationship to chronic diseases.” Dang believes that Taiwan’s experience in food safety is what Vietnam needs right now.

Over the past two years, Yeh Tai-sheng, associate professor at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition of Meiho University, has traveled to Vietnam three times for lectures. There, he observed that the Vietnamese are placing more emphasis on food safety. For instance, when mooncakes, traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, were found to contain illegal food coloring, the governmental watchdog fined the violators.

Meiho University President Chen Ching-chuan is himself a food safety expert. On top of that, the school boasts an Analysis Center for the Health Industry, Aqua- & Agriculture with top-notch equipment that wowed the HUFI president. The lab includes instruments worth tens of millions of New Taiwan dollars for gas chromatography and liquid chromatography, both analytical chemistry techniques to separate, identify and quantify, for example, food additives or fatty acids.

“At HUFI, I found that the devices there are more plain and simple. The instruments that we have at Meiho, you won’t find anywhere in Vietnam,” notes Yeh.

Studying in Taiwan Worth the Money

Why is the “two-plus-two” degree popular with Vietnamese students? First, Vietnamese students are becoming more interested in studying abroad. As one would expect, the hottest destinations are the United States, Britain and Australia, but not everyone can afford those destinations. Dang points out that, for Vietnam’s middle class, Taiwan is very attractive, since tuition and living costs are not that high. Moreover, students can obtain an international university degree that will increase their employability as well as their chances of being admitted to graduate school.

Therefore, students scramble to get into the program, although tuition is 60 percent higher than that of ordinary undergraduate programs. Around 100 students have applied for the 60 available places.

The “two-plus-two” program at Meiho University is taught in English and Mandarin, so students can practice their foreign language skills while gaining professional knowledge. Do Thuy Vi, a 20-year-old student in her second year, is preparing to leave for Taiwan in September. “At the average university in Vietnam, you don’t have an opportunity to practice Chinese or English. That’s why I am looking forward to Taiwan,” remarks Do, unable to hide her excitement.

Nguyen Khac Gia Huy, who is 19, is studying for a “two-plus-two” degree in biotechnology, a program launched at Meiho University last year. “I heard that Taiwan's tropical agriculture and chemical engineering research is cutting edge. I hope to develop biotechnology in Vietnam after my return to develop more products that are good for health,” notes Nguyen, who also hopes to go to graduate school in Taiwan.

Japan, South Korea also Wooing Vietnamese Students

Dang reveals that South Korea and Japan are aggressively advertising their universities with Vietnamese students, since South Korean and Japanese-invested companies urgently need local talent. Given that South Korea is handing out generous scholarships, Taiwan must also make some efforts, Dang points out.

Truong Huynh Nhi is a 22-year-old third-year student at HUFI’s food and nutrition department. He came to Meiho University last September and speaks fluent Mandarin.

Instead of returning to Vietnam during the summer break, Truong, who is interested in microbiology, works at the laboratory. He thinks that the equipment and instruments at the Meiho lab are much more comprehensive than at his university in Vietnam. “My time in Taiwan is very short, so I want to make full use of this time to learn,” Truong says.

With its expertise in food safety, Meiho University is the perfect match for Vietnam, especially in light of its dearth of food safety talent. If Taiwan’s public and private universities can precisely pinpoint student expectations and talent demands in ASEAN countries, they will be able to attract even more Southeast Asian students.


Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz