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Partnership Prevails Through Pandemic: Taiwan-France Forum Redefines Higher Education and Language Learning

Held at the NTNU School of Continuing Education on March 12, Day Two of the 2024 Taiwan-France Higher Education Leaders Forum focused on the pivotal role of universities in advancing Chinese and French languages globally. Moderated by Dr. Yun-Hua Yang, Executive Director of the Foundation for International Cooperation in Higher Education of Taiwan (FICHET), the panel of speakers included Yi-De Liu, NTNU Vice President for International Affairs; Jean-François Huchet, President of the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO); Nil Toulouse, Vice President for International Relations at the University of Lille; and Jean-Yves Heurtebise, Chair of the Department of French Language and Culture at Fu Jen Catholic University (FJCU). The discussions delved into institutional strategies for promoting French and Chinese as foreign languages, innovative pedagogical approaches in language instruction, and the enhancement of French and Chinese language programs as distinctive features of foreign language education.

In his opening remarks, NTNU President Cheng-Chih Wu highlighted the continuing collaboration between institutions of higher education in France and Taiwan since the inception of the forum in 2017, and noted that bilateral exchanges prevailed throughout the global pandemic. He expressed gratitude for the international attendance at this year’s forum, the first in-person forum post-pandemic, and looked forward to the forum in France next year.

Yi-De Liu, NTNU Vice President for International Affairs, emphasized the university's commitment to internationalization, noting that NTNU distinguishes itself not only as the first institution in Taiwan to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Teacher Diploma Programme, but serves as a benchmark university for bilingual education, offering an extensive range of EMI courses to accommodate international students.

"We are proud of our achievements in six key areas: the Mandarin Training Center, developing Taiwan’s Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language, our Department of Chinese as a Second Language, the IB Programme, the Chinese Language and Technology Research Center, and our Huayu BEST Program," Liu said. “The university provides a multifaceted learning environment. We have also developed the ‘COOL Chinese’ system, designed to support learners of Chinese with technology-enhanced tools for listening, speaking, reading, and writing.” Liu also noted that the university has forged partnerships with nearly 70 international universities, offering students opportunities for internships abroad. Despite the challenges faced by French learners in Taiwan, such as language attrition and competition from other European languages, NTNU remains committed to delivering high-quality education that integrates technological and cultural elements into language teaching, thereby ensuring access to superior teaching materials and learning environments.

Jean-François Huchet, President of INALCO, pointed out that Chinese is the fifth most taught foreign language in France. Students studying Chinse at the national high school level can progress to a more rigorous university curriculum in Sinology, encompassing language, history, politics, and social sciences. Two specialized academic laboratories at INALCO, focused on Chinese linguistics and socio-political studies, contribute to significant academic output. However, Huchet acknowledged the challenges posed by the rapid evolution of cultural trends, the competition from other Asian cultures, and the seclusion of Chinese academic research, all of which impact the motivation of French learners of Chinese at the university level. In response, innovative teaching methods such as digital learning, artistic learnings, and AI interventions, help bring together universities and industries in preparing students for international internships and collaborations.

Jean-Yves Heurtebise, Director of the Department of French Language and Culture at Fu Jen Catholic University, shared insights into the department's longstanding history and its comprehensive approach to French education. The department enrolls over 250 students majoring in French annually, and offers opportunities for intercollegiate academic exchanges through partnerships with a number of French universities. He emphasized the importance of academic and intellectual freedom in education, noting, "As a beacon of liberal democracy, Taiwan empowers French learners to apply their knowledge courageously, encouraging critical thinking and a sense of accomplishment in their language studies."

Nil Toulouse, Vice President for International and European Affairs at the University of Lille, spoke on the university's prestigious position within the Francophone academic community, highlighting its extensive network of over a thousand partnering educational institutions. The University of Lille is proactive in establishing collaborative ties with Taiwanese governmental bodies, and offers learning opportunities in 22 foreign languages. "Our strategic objectives focus on fostering students' abilities in international mobility, international adaptability, global appeal, proficiency in French on an international level, and professional competencies in French," she said.

A member of the audience queried whether the current exchange requirement for a B2 level of French proficiency for teaching in France can be relaxed, given Taiwan's position outside the Francophone learning sphere. President Jean-François Huchet of INALCO responded by underscoring the necessity for educators to possess a substantial command of French to effectively deliver specialized knowledge, construct comprehensive frameworks, and offer contextualized examples to students.

After the forum’s conclusion, Vice President Yi-De Liu extended warm hospitality to the attendees with a tour of NTNU’s library, the Gao Xingjian Center, and the NTNU Art Museum, providing insights into NTNU's dedication to internationalization and educational excellence.

This forum contributed to a profound mutual understanding and collaboration between Taiwanese and French institutions of higher education. The dynamic platform enabled dialog on the latest higher education policies in both nations, and facilitated knowledge sharing in areas of science, technology, language education, academia-industry partnerships, and talent development. Senior delegates from both countries were able to explore new vistas, consolidate shared objectives, and strengthen partnerships to advance excellence in higher education and meet increasingly rigorous demands for talent cultivation.