Why does Japan (and Taiwan) offer scholarships to foreigners?

In a previous discussion thread, commenter Riko of Taiwan asked me why Japan offers scholarships to foreigners. For those unfamiliar with the program, Japan’s Ministry of Education offers a number of scholarships, primarily graduate level, to foreign students from around the world, to come and study in Japan. To read about the types of scholarships avaliable, see any Japan Embassy web site and look under Education or Scholarships, for example the New York regional one (my home region). I originally types my comments below in reponse to Riko’s question, but then thought that this topic would be better as a new discussion, so here we are.

I don’t know anything about the history of the program or what the officially stated purpose is. In most Asian countries applications for the scholarships are very competitive, but people who study Japanese to a high enough level in the US are quite rare, so there are far fewer applicants for this program.

In fact, Taiwan has a similar program. When I was studying Chinese in Taipei, many of my classmates were in Taiwan on a government scholarship, doing language study before they actually entered their undergraduate or graduate program. The interesting thing in Taiwan is that there are actually two programs. One from the Ministry of Education, and one from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter program is open only to citizens of the few countries who have formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, and the MOE scholarships or for countries that don’t.

It seems to me that the goals of these scholarship programs in Japan and Taiwan are similar; their primary purpose is diplomatic, to build goodwill towards the host country. In Taiwan’s case, they are obviously overshadowed by China in terms of image, and they want people to come and study there so Taiwan will have a core of foreigners helping to promote the country abroad based on their good experiences there. If you look at which foreigners are studying in Taiwan, about half are Japanese-most of whom either have relatives or ancestors that are Taiwanese or who did not want to study in China either because Taiwan’s standard of living is more similar to Japan or because they worry about anti-Japan sentiment in China making it uncomfortable to be there. Then you have another 10 or 20% who are Taiwanese-Americans or Canadians, who obviously would study in their parents or grandparents’ home instead of China. Then there are a few percent who wanted to study in Taiwan because the traditional writing appealed more to them or they have family working in Taiwan or their Taiwanese friends back home suggested they go to Taiwan, but I think 20-30% or so are there because of the scholarships. If the Taiwanese government did not use these scholarships, they would probably have exactly zero students coming from most countries, and almost zero coming from some other countries if you do not count students that have blood links to Taiwan. I guarantee that I would have never even thought of going to Taiwan if they had not offered me a few months of free study there. Since Taiwan is, to put it mildly, in a diplomatically awkward situation, it is probably worth the money to take a few people each from many different countries around the world, and then send them home educated and friendly towards Taiwan. Larger numbers of these scholarships are also

Japan’s case is not as dramatic as Taiwan, but the reasons are similar if smaller scale. While there are people interested in Japan all over the world, there are virtually no communities of native speakers of Japanese outside of Japan, so most people who become fluent in Japanese and understand Japanese culture will have to live in Japan at some point. Since Japan is one of the world’s most expensive countries, there are very few people around the world who can afford to study there, and of course the number of people who could afford it is much lower in some poorer countries-and these are often the same countries where Japan has manufacturing or outsourcing facilities, or buys raw materials from.

There are probably other justifications for the program which I have missed,  so please chime in.

27 thoughts on “Why does Japan (and Taiwan) offer scholarships to foreigners?”

  1. I’m getting a PHD courtesy of the Taiwan taxpayer. Not only that, but they hand out a US$300 stipend — unfortunately they claimed it was a scholarship, but then said it was work study when we showed up. They also waived all the entrance exams. I got in for being foreign and having an MA.

    Now, really, is the time if you want to come to Taiwan and study.

  2. “these scholarship programs in Japan and Taiwan are similar; their primary purpose is diplomatic”.

    I guess scholarship programs elsewhere has same purpose,MF.

    “about half are Japanese-most of whom either have relatives or ancestors that are Taiwanese or who did not want to study in China either because Taiwan’s standard of living is more similar to Japan or because they worry about anti-Japan sentiment in China making it uncomfortable to be there. ”

    KMT tends to attract Chinese Japanese community to study chinese.But I think Japanese who studies Chinese do not care either the standard of living nor anti-Japanese sentiment(why would you study Chinese in the first place then?)thus do not choose Taiwan for the above reasons.
    Taiwan studies is getting popular in Japanese academia after democratization for various reasons.Colonial studies,area studies,and literature studies.One of the Chinese lit prof thinks Taipei is now the defacto capital of Chinese lit world.Since it has freedom of speech, what ever banned in the PRC would be in print in Taiwan.
    And according to this prof,local lit scene is more active then HongKong,a cultural desert except movies and fashion.

  3. “I guess scholarship programs elsewhere has same purpose,MF.”
    Very true. The famous Fullbright scholarship program from the US was founded as a diplomatic tool as well. Fullbright is arguably the most famous program of this type in the world, especially since they also incorporate programs for sending American researchers and teachers abroad, as well as bringing foreigners to the US. I should have mentioned Fullbright in the blog entry, but I only thought of the Taiwanese program because Riko is Taiwanese, and because I’m thinking of applying for it if the Japan one doesn’t work out.

    “I think Japanese who studies Chinese do not care either the standard of living nor anti-Japanese sentiment(why would you study Chinese in the first place then?)thus do not choose Taiwan for the above reasons.”

    The things you discuss are important for the Japanese students that are learning Chinese for academic reasons, but I can tell you from experience they are a fairly small minority of the Japanese students in Taiwan. Yes, I have one Japanese friend who was learning Chinese in preparation for his history PHD (which he is doing in Taiwan) but almost all the ones I met in Taiwan were there just for the experience of living abroad, to delay looking for a real job after college, or because they have Taiwanese roots (one or more parents or grandparents usually) that they wanted to connect with. Many of them of course hope to be able to use Chinese in work later on, but most are really more worried about having fun in another country. And yes, a few told me that they chose to come to Taiwan instead of China because they were worried about the standard of living, or anti-Japanese prejudice by the Chinese.

    I won’t argue with you that Taiwan is a better place for studying literature and so on, only that it isn’t really a concern for most people going there. Of course, some of the ones who started out with no special interest in Chinese/Taiwanese literature might stay long enough to be able to read it and then develop an interest, but that isn’t why they went in the first place.

    Take me. Obviously I am very interested in historical and colonial studies of Taiwan, but I had barely even thought about it before I made plans to go there, when I checked out a bunch of books on Taiwan from my university library at home. And I only went because of the scholarship.

  4. “just for the experience of living abroad, to delay looking for a real job after college”.

    Ha.I was like that when I was their age.
    But really,there is a lot more positive about being in Taiwan to study.Chiang Kai Shek just didn’t brought reign of terror to Taiwan.He brought all the cultural best and the brightest of the old regime along with KMT.Taiwanese text book(I can’t read Chinese,but following from Kanji)in the past seems to be spending enourmous amount of pages to learn the cultural heritage of Chinese civilization.Probably because KMT wanted to proclaim the legitimacy of the regime by being the successor of the chinese culture.Not that justify the lack of teaching the island’s history,of course.

  5. Chiang Kai Shek also brought over a ton of Chinese treasures looted from the mainland, including the Forbidden City. He probably would have brought the palace itself if he could have.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Taiwanese are trying to be more Chinese than the Chinese, trying to [re]claim their heritage. It must be hard being isolated from most of the cultural splendour of China’s long history. In a way it’s a bit like a colonial nation in that regard. And as Aceface suggests, history legitimacy may also be a significant point. China is particularly complex in that regard for two reasons: the defeated KMT side still exists (like the Southern Sung perhaps?) and China has always been defined not by geography per se but by Empire, changing its borders with each new dynasty.

    As for the Japanese Mombusho, I got a BA and MA courtesy of that particular gravy train, and was told right out by one of the profs at the first-year language school that it was designed to produce 親日家, pro-Japan people. No doubt about that. What is interesting is that the undergraduate scheme at least is very selective in which nations can apply. No US citizens, for example. No Brits, and only recently eastern Europeans. No Chinese or Taiwanese. No Koreans. Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders are allowed, as are other Asia-Pacific countries. And Latin Americans. Possibly some Africans lately – can’t confirm that. They seem to avoid the Rich Nations, those that send across enough foreign students (or wouldn’t be 親日家 anyway??) already, and more remote countries, while focusing on those Japan did over, or attempted to do over, in WW2. The graduate scheme is far more open, as is the research student one.

  6. Under the KMT the policy was for Taiwan to be super-Chinese in everything, since after all they were the Republic of China- the true government of all China and bearer of the torch of the great Chinese civilization while the communists ruined things across the strait. In recent years they are focusing a lot less on Chinese culture, as I have written about on this blog a bit recently, and are pushing more of a Taiwanese identity. Obviously they still teach Chinese history and literature, but the attitude is different from in the past.

    According to the KMT and Taiwan it wasn’t “looting” but “rescuing.”

    Where are you from Jade OC? I’ve never met anyone who had the Monbusho undergraduate scholarship before. Graduate students can come from almost any country, including the US, Europe, etc. but perhaps there are still more slots for poorer countries. I’m not entirely sure.

    In Taiwan I knew a number of undergrads on Taiwanese govt. scholarship. Several Costa Ricans, an Argentinian, two Iraqi Kurds, two Papa New Guineans, etc. I also knew some graduate students on scholarship: a Colombian, another Costa Rican or two, a Nicaraguan, a Japanese guy or two. There were some Africans around as well, but I don’t remember if they were undergrads or grad students. All in all, it was very very demographics from what I’ve seen in Japan, where I’ve never met a single student from anywhere in Latin America or Africa.

  7. “more remote countries, while focusing on those Japan did over, or attempted to do over, in WW2”
    I would very much like to hear you come up with some stats or data on this Jade.
    China and Korea is sending majority of the students and they are the biggest benefiters of scholarships in this country not just from Monbusho.
    We(I’m using this word now) avoid the “rich “nation only because we think they can afford studying in Japan with their parents money.

    “Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders are allowed, as are other Asia-Pacific countries”
    Have you considered any possibility of mutual agreement of supporting the exchanging students between Tokyo and these governments?

    Could people in the world stop this Japan-running-gravy-train-in-the-form-of-blah-blah-blah crap ,especially when you don’t have any correct evidence for heaven’s sake!
    If you want to sell you stingy gaijin soul with fistful of yen,good.If you don’t,Fine.
    You can still rip off from our taxpayers,we are used to it and willing to support it.

    But do let us know how much you really want for it afterwards,OK?

  8. Ace: I was referring specifically to **undergraduate** Mombusho scholars. 国費学部留学生. Not graduate. It may have changed recently, but when I was one (thus speaking from personal experience) there were no Chinese or Koreans. Mongolians, yes. Singaporeans, yes. As I said, it has recently included East Europeans and may have expanded to include Africans, but this is a relatively recent change.

    Studyjapan.go.jp notes that “Developing countries, etc. (94 countries and regions)” are eligible. This seems like an increase on the number that were eligible when I was one, but that doesn’t of course mean people from each country necessarily get one.

    The topic was talking about Japanese Ministry of Education scholarships, not private ones (there is a huge difference between them: MOE is 国費, everyone else is 私費), so I have not addressed any non-MOE undergraduate scholarships.

    I am not privy to all mutual agreements between Japan and other governments, but would assume that those that send scholars over have some agreement. The question remains, why those countries? Why not, for example, China? Why Canada and not the USA?

    And as far as I am concerned, ANY scholarship or fellowship from ANY government (or private organisation) that pays me money is a gravy train. I have no idea why you seem so hostile to the idea that people enjoy getting good money. Especially for what most people have to pay for.

  9. Me?Hostile?No Kidding.I’m only doing my part on shooting down the anti Japanese propaganda on this blog.I’m on a payroll of these people in the windowless vans too,you know….

  10. Canada does not have a major scholarship program for Japanese people.

    The Monbusho is a gravy train…. but one that often produces productive researchers. There is also no effort to strongarm you into doing “happy” research either.

  11. Yeah Jade Oc the KMT tried to make Taiwan more chinese than the real chinese, because as Mutantfrog said they tried to assert that they’re “the true government of all China and bearer of the torch of the great Chinese civilization while the communists ruined things across the strait”.

    and in order to promote that super chineseness, children were refrained from speaking any other language than mandarin at schools, otherwise they were fined. Also, the buildings which were built by the Japanese were destroyed, to eradicate all traces of Japaneseness in Taiwan.

    The education system is changing, because under the KMT events which happened in Taiwan’s history which were disadvantageous to the KMT such as the 228 Massacre was never refered to. they are pushing for a 認同台灣,認識中國 (recognition of Taiwan, understanding China) kind of attitude in Taiwan’s education now. Initially it was no recognition of Taiwan and her unique history and culture. Thus why the rectification of names etc which mutantfrog blogged about before. 🙂

    thanks to everyone, i am learning a lot from this blog! 🙂

  12. Jade come on ,you know me(or getting to know me).
    Anyway I was not amused about your claim Tokyo giving yens to third party foreigners to cover up ww2 notoriety.Compare to your first post,second one was much better.

    I’m the guy with thorny sense of humor with sap English.and this is my style of incorporating barbarians discussing OUR family circle issues.Or should I praise your Japanese instead?

    I apologize if it was too offensive.

    Why Canada and not the U.S.A,or China?:
    Good question.But then again why not?Canadians are people who print animals in their bank notes.They must be peaceful and meek enough to allow into this country.
    I heard this through grapevines.文部省の連中の考えそうなコトだよな!

  13. Ace, I nowhere intended to assert that the undergrad Mombusho schols were ever designed to “cover up WW2 notoriety”. In fact it could be the opposite: you could see them as part of how the Japanese government has been paying reparations, a payment that many people hostile to Japan like to deny the country has ever done. Japan has given millions in development aid to the countries it invaded in the war, as a form of reparation, so why not as scholarship schemes? I am not saying this is indeed the basis, but it seems that IF it was, it would, I feel, be a perfectly respectable one.

    As M-Bone notes, in fact, the MOE places no restrictions on study field, and so we are, if we choose, perfectly free to get a Mombusho undergrad schol and devote the entire time to researching Japan’s war record – without any government pressure to produce results favourable to Japan (and indeed, given that most Japanese historians are pretty left-wing, Japanese history as it is taught in universities is often highly critical of conservative whitewashing stances, so any undergrads would be more likely to follow their profs’ leads than the reverse). This is not a scheme designed to “whitewash” anything.

    The US also has animals on its money: the bald eagle. Does that count….?

  14. Gotta love a country with a beaver on the money.

    Canada and Japan generally get along very well. The only major issue lately has been mad cow.

    I looked at the Japanese embassy in Canada page but could see nothing about why (unilateral) scholarshps are so generous. It seems as though the Monbusho research money has fallen from 185,000 a month to 172,000….

  15. Agreed with the post above. There’s actually a thread among “Japan bashers” that the Monbusho scholarships and the huge endowments for Japan studies centers at Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and other schools are actually just a big conspiracy to produce “Japan apologists” among the academic community, who can then provide pro-Japan spin to the political and business communities. If that’s true, I’d say that the programs have been successful, although perhaps not as successful in the long run as Sailor Moon and Pokémon.

  16. Did any of you know that James Fallows came to Japan for his “The Atlantic Monthly”assignment 20 years ago,with the money from Sasakawa foundation and wrote “Containing Japan”?

  17. Joe: sounds rather like what Michael Crichton went on about in “Rising Sun” back in the day.
    M-Bone: yes, the cash cow is drying up a bit it seems. I am glad I boarded the gravy train when I did. Not that 172,000 is anything to sneeze at of course. So long as you stay out of the main centres and don’t party too much.

  18. The highest quality programs of this sort are those found in Hong Kong and China. Taiwan is so far behind that the only way students can be attracted is by offering massive scholarships. Even still, these programs are not able to attract the students they want because massively expensive programs in China are able to attract them. If such scholarships were not available, it is doubtful that anyone would be enrolled in these programs.

  19. Scott, what sort of programs are you referring to? Do you mean Chinese language training, or some other sort of education? I’m curious to know what you think are the best programs. I’ve read several pieces on your blog, and I can see that you know a lot more about language education than I do.

  20. Frog, I am not referring to language programs. National Cheng Kung University and other top Taiwan national universities offer the iMBA and other English-taught programs. Currently, they are VERY heavily subsidized. As a foreign student, all tuition is waved. You can read more about this on my post,
    Simialr programs are also available in China, but rather than being subsized, students must and do pay huge amounts. For example, the Rutgers IEMBA
    charges US$37,050 in tuition. Their student body is composed of 40% local Chinese students and 60% foreign students. All courses are taught in English by Rutgers’ faculty. Similar programs are run between Tsinghua and MIT
    the University of British Columbia and Jiao Tung University
    as well as other top schools in China, the USA, Canada, and Australia.

  21. Scott, thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t specifically referring to iMBA programs, as I never met anyone studying in that sort of program in Taiwan. I had classmates and friends who were there just for language study, for ordinary undergrad study in various departments, MAs in Music and Economics, and one PHD in history, but no one in a business program so I had never really thought about such courses. I had no idea that the IMBA programs were so expensive, and also so heavily subsidized for foreigners.

    I happen to be an alumni of Rutgers, and am still a New Jersey resident when at home in the US. If I, hypothetically, were going into an MBA program, why would it be worth it to me to pay that insane amount of money to study at their program in China as opposed to the in-state tuition rate to study back in Jersey?

    You mentioned in the above-linked post that you were very impressed with the NCKU program, but here you seem to suggest that the quality is still far below that of programs in China or HK. I’m a bit confused, but I can at least agree that Tainan is a very nice city, and I’d like to spend a bit more time there than just the 3 days I have.

  22. First, there are many foreign students enrolled in Taiwan English-taught programs. Michael Turton is enrolled in the PhD program at NCKU. He takes course taught in Mandarin, so I’m not certain if it’s an iPhD. Perhaps it’s an age think, but I have run into almost a dozen students enrolled in English-taught programs at NCCU in Mucha. The school advertizes daily in the Taipei Times.

    In all honesty, when I spoke with Dean Henry Wu, I was not aware of the China and Hong King programs I referred to in my comment above. I believe that the international programs at NCKU are well-led and have significantly able instructors to be competitive. The programs in China and HK have a very considerable head start and the market for these China-oriented MBAs is only a small part of the entire business education market. It may be that programs in Taiwan, no matter how good they can become, will never be able to catch up.

    While it’s true that NJ residents would not find a Rutgers IEMBA in China competitive because of the cost, I’m not sure this is a real problem for the program. How many NJ residents are among the market for China-oriented MBA programs?

    And finally, Rutgers is really a beautiful university, although the town itself isn’t much to speak of and the hotels off-campus are…well, less than one would want to speak about. I also think the food on campus is great, even if the students I talked to thought I was joking when I told tghem this.

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