Taipei, Jan. 30 (CNA) There were more than 110,000 overseas students enrolled at universities in Taiwan in 2015, accounting for 8.27 percent of all university students in the country, the Ministry of Education said Saturday.
The number of foreign students rose by 16,537 last year to reach 110,182, according to ministry statistics.
Liu Su-miao, a section chief of the ministry's Department of International and Cross-strait Education, said last year's surge "caught us by surprise," and she attributed it mainly to an increase of 7,000 Chinese students in Taiwan last year.
It also reflected more aggressive recruiting efforts overseas by local universities, which have seen declining enrollment by Taiwanese students because of the county's low birth rate over the past two decades, Liu said. The figures also indicated that a goal set by President Ma Ying-jeou of increasing the number of foreign students in Taiwan from 30,000 when he took office to more than 100,000 when he steps down on May 20 has been met.
The president has said repeatedly that he wanted to turn Taiwan into an advanced learning powerhouse in the Asia-Pacific region.
The ministry's statistics also showed that the number of foreign students in Taiwan to pursue advanced degrees increased by 6,000 in 2015.
The sources of foreign students were mainly Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam, in that order.
There was also a sharp rise in the number of students from India, Indonesia and Myanmar, Liu said, adding that her department expects to further diversify its sources of students in the future and hopes to recruit 150,000 foreign students a year by 2021.
The ministry said Taiwan has built a reputation as having a friendly learning environment after easing regulations on overseas students, offering more scholarships and promoting a counseling system.
The focus in the future will be to encourage overseas students to remain in Taiwan to work after graduation and give the island's private sector more access to young talent, it said. (By Chen Chih-chung and Lilian Wu)