January 25, 2006

SIUC, Taiwanese university explore partnership

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A proposed master’s degree program in civil engineering, to be offered jointly by Southern Illinois University Carbondale and National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, could be just the beginning of a partnership that would help SIUC students compete more effectively in a global marketplace.

John A. Koropchak, SIUC vice chancellor for research and graduate dean, traveled to Taiwan in mid-December to meet with NCKU officials and to talk with representatives of universities in three other cities about opportunities to collaborate on both educational programs and faculty research projects. He, along with SIUC engineering professors James W. Blackburn and Tomasz Wiltowski and Materials Technology Center Director Max Yen, also visited three science research parks and Taiwan’s National Science Council.

Because the Taiwanese believe higher education is the key to the country’s economic success, they are eager to invest in it, Koropchak said.

“The government of Taiwan has decided it wants to significantly enhance its universities, and it is starting with National Cheng Kung University and National Taiwan University in Taipei,” he said.

“For each of the next five years, it will invest $1.7 billion in Taiwanese dollars in its two flagship universities. That corresponds to about $50 million U.S. For us, that would be like a 15 percent increase in our budget — in terms of money we get from the state, it would be more like a 40 to 50 percent increase. It’s a huge commitment, and our collaboration with NCKU (on the degree program) is a good indication of the international reputation that SIUC has.”

The joint offering, to be called the “One Plus One” program, would allow master’s-level students to complete their first year at one university and their second at the other. Faculty at both universities would supervise research related to the students’ theses.

“NCKU has a significant emphasis on materials technology and nanotechnology, and at SIUC, we have the Materials Technology Center,” Koropchak said. Students would benefit from exposure to research areas in both universities, while collaboration between the faculty supervisors could lead to new, joint research projects.

“One Plus One” also would solve a unique problem for NCKU, where nearly half the university’s 19,000 students are graduate students.

“They have a large number of graduate students, who require a fair bit of supervision, but a small number of faculty,” Koropchak said.

While the focus in negotiations between the two universities is on graduate education in civil engineering, Koropchak said the program could easily expand to other disciplines.

“Any master’s program where research and a thesis are an important part could fit into the framework of this model,” he said.

Several of the universities Koropchak visited expressed interest in SIUC’s executive master of business administration degree, which is already offered in Taiwan and in Hong Kong and Singapore as well. Koropchak said he could envision a talent swap in which SIUC would offer MBA courses to Taiwanese students in exchange for language training for American students.

“Some universities have advanced programs for teaching Mandarin, and with the way the global economy is going, our students who had training in Mandarin could be particularly well placed for the future,” he said.

Language training also could extend to undergraduates. It would be a natural fit, for example, for students enrolled in SIUC’s Foreign Language and International Trade program.

“The ability to speak Mandarin would make them more effective in business dealings with China and Taiwan,” Koropchak said.

Koropchak said negotiations between SIUC and NCKU over the “One Plus One” program are at an advanced stage. He expects a formal agreement to emerge sometime this spring.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.