Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2009

Where Minds Meet: The "Professionalization" of Cross-Strait Academic Exchange

Günter Schucher

August 2009

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


In international relations, transnational academic exchange or, more generally, cultural exchange is usually seen as a function of the quality of bilateral relations. As a variety of public diplomacy intended to win the “hearts and minds” of intellectuals in another country, the development of educational exchanges depends on the twists in foreign policy. Academic exchange across the Taiwan Strait commenced in the late 1980s, directly after the lifting of the travel ban, and had gathered momentum by the mid-1990s. It even accelerated further after the inauguration of the pro-independence Chen-government in Taiwan in 2000, creating the “paradox” of the expansion of social contacts in times of frosty political relations. One possible explanation for this is that due to the rather unique situation in the Taiwan Strait people-to-people exchanges between Taiwan and mainland China have been officially promoted as a substitute for official contacts. What is often neglected by analysts of cross-Strait relations, however, is the fact that academic exchange is also a response to the global pressure to internationalize higher education. Within this two-dimensional framework (international relations and the internationalization of higher education), cross-Strait academic exchange has been developing its own dynamic. The outcome has been an increasing amount of nonofficial communication and the growing “professionalization” (in the sense of the academic profession) of academic exchange.