Education in Taiwan

This article provides an overview of Taiwan’s educational system in the context of current events, including a political transition, the impact of rapid massification of Taiwan’s higher education sector, and Taiwan’s declining birth rates. The article offers an overview of current educational mobility trends among Taiwanese students, and provides sample credentials, and a list of the types of documents required by WES for credential evaluation.


A 13,974 square-mile island located off the southeast coast of China, Taiwan is heavily influenced by its relationship with China. China claims Taiwan, which is home to roughly 23 million people, as a province. Taiwan, meanwhile, acts as a de facto independent nation and has had a democratically elected government since 1996. In May 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, the head of the traditionally pro-independence party, became Taiwan’s first female president. At her inauguration, Tsai Ing-wen pledged to protect regional democracy and to reduce economic dependence on China. China, meanwhile, restricted coverage of the inauguration to state-run media and began pressuring Tsai Ing-wen to clarify her position on the ‘One China’ [1] doctrine that has governed the two countries’ relationship since 1992.

Tension over statehood is manifest at the most basic level of official nomenclature. Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China. Accordingly, its central educational authority is the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China [2].

An infographic with fast facts about Taiwan's educational system and international student mobility landscape. [3]

Overview of the Education System

The Ministry of Education (MoE) is responsible for setting and maintaining education policies and managing public institutions of education throughout Taiwan. The education system comprises:

The official language [4] of instruction is Mandarin Chinese, and the academic year runs from September to June. The literacy rate among Taiwanese ages 15 and above was 98.5 percent as of 2014.

Students graduating from the Taiwanese education system do so with some of the highest scores in the world on comparative international tests, especially in more technical fields such as mathematics and science. However, the system has been routinely criticized for too great a focus on memorization (not atypical for this region of the world), and for producing graduates lacking the creativity of those coming from systems with more generalist, less exam-focused, curricular. In Taiwan, policymakers have attempted to address this perceived shortcoming through a series of ongoing educational reforms.

Reforms at the Basic and Secondary Levels

Until recently, compulsory education in Taiwan lasted only nine years (six years of elementary education and three years of junior high).

As of 2014, the ministry implemented reforms that added three years of compulsory senior secondary education to the curriculum. Among other goals, the transition to the 12-year system [5] sought to address long-standing criticisms of the previous system. Per the Center on International Education Benchmarking [6], the reforms:

(Additional information about primary and secondary education in Taiwan, as well as sample credentials, are available later in this article.)

Higher Education: Massification, Over-Capacity, and Contraction

Over the last 30 years, Taiwan’s higher education system has undergone rapid massification, transforming from an elite system to a universal one. More than 5 million [8] Taiwanese now hold post-secondary degrees; an estimated 1.3 million have graduate degrees, up from 570,000 in 2005. Rapid growth has strained both the higher education sector and Taiwan’s economy, with highly educated graduates flooding an island labor market that is not able to absorb them.

Growth began in the mid-1980s, and accelerated in 1996, when the Taiwanese government sanctioned the creation of new private higher education institutions and new players flooded the sector. It accelerated when president Chen Shui-bian ( who served from 2000-2008) sought to fulfill his campaign promise of a “university in every county.” Between 1984 and 2014, the total number of higher education institutions (HEIs) in Taiwan jumped from 105 to 159 [9] – a growth rate of 66 percent.

In the face of low birth rates and declining demand, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education announced plans to merge some universities beginning in 2015. According to the Taipei Times [10], the “ministry estimated that eight to 12 of the 51 public universities in the nation, and 20 to 40 of the 101 private universities” would merge or close by 2023. The plan is a response to the population decline, as well as to overarching concerns about both the quality and sustainability of the sector.

Population decline poses an ongoing challenge for Taiwan’s higher education sector and has implications for both inbound and outbound mobility. The Ministry of Education has predicted [11] that the number of enrolled students will “drop by a third by 2023.” Recent articles also note other difficulties that the Taiwanese higher education sector has faced in remaining competitive in a globalized education market, not least in terms of government budget allocations [12]. The government allotment for education in Taiwan represents less than one-quarter of the country’s budget, with only one-third of that going to higher education. That money is then allocated to higher education institutions across the country, making it difficult for universities to compete for and keep scholars and staff who have more lucrative opportunities in other countries.

Recent rankings have also hurt Taiwanese institutions. Taiwan’s top university, National Taiwan University, recently suffered a major fall in its presence on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings [13] list. On the 2014-2015 list, the university’s rank fell drastically from #51 down to #155. On this year’s list, the university has not improved and is ranked at #167.

Ongoing mergers pose additional challenges. One proposed merger [14] between National Tsing Hua and National Hsingchu Normal, for instance, has raised concerns that National Tsing Hua University’s quality and reputation will suffer. Students have also held protests [15] regarding the perceived “hasty planning and a lack of transparency in the decision-making process.”

International Student Mobility

For two years in the late 1980s, before China emerged as the globally dominant supplier of international students, Taiwan was the leading sender of students to the United States. The number of Taiwanese students on U.S. campuses peaked 1993/94 at some 37,581. It has been declining ever since.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, Taiwain sent 20,993 students to the U.S., making it “seventh leading place of origin [16]” for U.S.-enrolled international students. (In 2013-2014, it held the sixth spot on the list.) Roughly three-quarters of Taiwanese students in the U.S. enroll in higher education; 28.8 percent pursue undergraduate studies, and 45.8 percent enroll in graduate programs. The remaining 25.4 percent enroll in optional practical training programs [17] and other educational programs.

The 2014-2015 academic year represents the eighth consecutive year of declining U.S. enrollments of Taiwanese students — but other regions around the globe have seen growth. For instance, in 2012/13, even as Taiwanese enrollments dropped in the U.S, the Ministry of Education reported a slight uptick in outbound student mobility elsewhere. In 2013, the U.K. saw a spike in enrollments, with some 16,000 Taiwanese studying in the U.K. – a substantial leap over the 4,600 the previous year. China’s vice minister of education, Chen Te-hua, attributed the spike to active recruitment by U.K. institutions [18]. In 2014, Australia saw its total number of Taiwanese enrollments rise to 9,998, a 24.3 percent increase [19] over the prior year’s tally of 7,200.

More recently, Taiwan has also focused inbound mobility among international student from other nations. [20]In 2014, for instance, Taiwan’s government established a 2020 goal of 150,000 international higher education enrollments. Taiwan has seen results from these international recruitment efforts, with an increase of 17.7 percent [21] in its numbers of foreign students between 2014 and 2015. The current international student total of 110,000 is primarily comprised of students from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Malaysia.

In Brief: The Education System of Taiwan


Preschool education is not part of Taiwan’s compulsory education system; it is, however, supported by the government, which provides assistance to financially disadvantaged families to enroll their children. In 2012, the Early Childhood Education and Care Act consolidated the education and care of young children ages 2-6 under a single administrative system.

Private preschools are not sanctioned by the government, but many exist. A number of private preschool chains operate under franchise arrangements throughout the country, offering accelerated courses to capitalize on public demand for academic achievement. Many offer English immersion programs.

Primary Education

Compulsory education begins at the primary level, at age six. It spans [4] grades 1 through 6. Primary subjects include Mandarin, mathematics, science, English (typically beginning in Grade 5), native languages, social studies, homeland education, music, and art.

Students graduate from primary school with a primary school diploma. They are not required to take a test to enter junior high school.

Junior High School

Junior high school lasts three years, from grades 7 through 9.

Junior high students may pursue either an academic or vocational track. Upon graduation from grade 9, students continue on to senior high school. Those on the academic track must take an exam to obtain placement in high school. (Reforms have sought to mitigate the pressure imposed by a notoriously difficult high school entrance exam; more on this below.) Vocational students continue on to more senior levels without testing.

In 2015, the MoE began requiring senior high schools [22] to admit at least 50 percent of students based on results of the exam, which is called the Comprehensive Assessment Program. (Prior to the reform, 61 percent of Taiwanese junior high students did not earn high enough scores to obtain placement in high school.) Under the reformed system, top scorers have the opportunity to take assessments offered by certain high schools that offer specialized programs, typically in either music or science.

Senior High School

Three years of senior high school are now mandatory for Taiwanese students. Senior high school extends from grades 10 through 12. Like junior high, it includes either an academic track or a vocational track. Some students may opt to pursue alternative secondary education options called bi-lateral high schools, comprehensive junior-senior high schools, or junior colleges. These options are outlined at the end of this section.

Students who successfully graduate from academic high schools are awarded a Senior High School Leaving Certificate (Diploma).

Alternative Pathways

Comprehensive Secondary Education Options offer students alternative pathways through the final years of mandatory schooling. These include:

Higher Education

University Admission

Prior to reforms in 2001, admission to tertiary studies was based exclusively on the Joint University Entrance Examination (JUEE). In 2002, the introduction of a multi-channel admission process sought to deemphasize JUEE performance as the sole criteria for admissions to colleges and universities. Under the current system, all students seeking admission to colleges and universities sit for one or both of the following exams [24].

The multi-channel structure includes several routes for admission:

  1. Performance-based, as determined by a combination of results on both Subject Competency Tests and the Designated Subject(s) Examination.
  2. Recommendation- and performance-based. In this scenario, high schools recommend students to one university faculty of the students’ choice. Students then sit for the Subject Competency Test. Faculty select students based on their test results, and, in some cases, an interview or additional assessments.
  3. Self-selection. Students may also apply to specific faculties independently of their high schools. The process for the recommendation- and performance-based pathway (as described above) applies.

Technical and Vocational Higher Education

Technical and vocational programs are offered at community colleges, junior colleges, and institutes of technology. The Department of Technological and Vocational Education in the Ministry of Education is responsible for administering technical and vocational education at both the senior-secondary level, and for post-secondary education.

Academic Education – Undergraduate

Bachelors’ degrees are typically completed within four years. Students may be granted extensions of up to two years to fulfill their requirements. Bachelors’ degrees are offered by:

The program of study for a bachelor’s degree is structured much like it is in the United States, with the first two years constituting general education and an introduction to subjects in a student’s expected area of specialization. The last two years are typically reserved for more advanced coursework in the student’s area of specialization. A minimum of 128 credits is the minimum required to graduate, although most programs require between 132 and 175 credits.

Some specialized undergraduate programs require additional credits and time to complete.

Academic Education – Graduate

Master’s degree programs require one to four years of study, although the standard is two years. Typically, programs require a mix of coursework, 24 credit hours, examinations, and a thesis. Students take core and elective courses, the exact mix of which will vary depending on the discipline. Students must also meet a minimum knowledge requirement in English and a second foreign language.

Entrance to doctoral programs is typically based on a master’s degree, though some programs admit bachelor’s degree holders. Doctoral programs last two to seven years, depending on the admission requirement. They include a period of a full-time course load, and an additional research period, which culminates in a thesis.

Teacher Education

Qualified teachers [25] at the pre-school, primary, and secondary-level are required to hold a four-year teacher education degree. These programs are offered at both public and private institutions. Pre-school and primary teachers are typically instructed at teacher’s colleges, while secondary school teachers are trained at universities.

Teacher-training programs are typically four-year and full-time. They yield between 128 and 148 credits and are followed by a six-month internship. After completing the internship, graduates are awarded the Qualified Teacher Certificate. In order to be recognized, they must sit for the Ministry of Education’s Teacher Qualification Exam.

The program of study at teacher training programs typically includes general education courses, pedagogical study, and classes pertinent to subject specializations.

Students can also take a two-year teaching program at a teachers’ college if they have a two-year junior college teaching qualification.

Grading Scales

A table showing the secondary grading scale used in Taiwan. [26]

A table showing the undergraduate grading scale used in Taiwan. [27]


Funded by the Ministry, the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan was established [28] in 2005 to act as a quality assurance body. The Council oversees current evaluation mechanisms, evaluates university administration, and develops professional evaluation criteria to ensure objectivity and credibility within the system.

Required Documents Checklist

World Education Services requires the following documents from Taiwanese students when evaluating secondary and post-secondary credentials:

Secondary Education

Higher Education

big [29] Sample Documents: Taiwan

This file [29] of Sample Documents (pdf) shows the following set of annotated credentials from the Taiwanese education system: