University of Oslo to become research hub of Taiwan studies

The Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) in Norway’s University of Oslo has announced that it will be offering numerous Taiwan-related seminar courses between 2023 and 2025, with hopes of becoming the research hub of Taiwanese studies in Northern Europe.

IKOS announced that starting in January 2023, the department will offer a Taiwan Research Seminar Program, with subjects on early history, modern history, politics, cross-Taiwan Strait relations, indigenous peoples, languages, religions, gender and film.

Vincent Yao (center), head of the Taipei Mission in Sweden, is pictured with Stacy Huang (left) from the mission, and Rune Svarverud, head of University of Oslo’s Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages after they signed an agreement on Taiwan studies. Photo courtesy of the mission

Experts and authorities engaged in studies on Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and Buddhism inspired environmental researches will be invited to the university as short-term guest lecturers, while postgraduate students will have the opportunity to go to Taiwan for short-term research.

The brains behind the inception of the program is Professor Halvor Eifring, who teaches China Studies at IKOS.

According to Eifring, the program is well under way for its official initiation with the support of the Taipei Mission in Sweden.

The de-facto embassy of Taiwan helped IKOS in facilitating education-related cooperation with many Taiwanese partners to introduce Mandarin language teaching assistants, organize Mandarin language proficiency tests, and provide students with scholarships to study and conduct research in Taiwan.

The first batch of IKOS students to Taiwan will arrive this fall and stay from six months to a year to learn Chinese at the National Chengchi University and the National Taiwan Normal University.

Additionally, Eifring said IKOS has established deep ties with Taiwan in the area of academics in recent years.

As it has become more difficult for scholars and graduate students to conduct research in China, a number of IKOS professors no longer able to acquire visas to enter the country, he said.

Alongside the fact that China has decided to maintain a strict COVID-19 response policy, democratic Taiwan has become a more preferable environment for IKOS to launch research partnerships, he said.

Currently, IKOS has listed Taiwan Studies as the focus of its research strategy for the next 10 years, he noted.

The department hopes that it will become the hub of Taiwanese research and studies in Northern Europe, serving as a platform that could connect Taiwan Studies scholars from all over the world, and prospectively, the pivotal link to the creation of a European research association in this regard, according to Eifring.

The program is not University of Oslo’s first Taiwan-themed symposium. Back in the fall of 2021, the university had held a Taiwan Matters seminar that was positively received by students.

While the pandemic prevented the possibility of a 2022 seminar, the success of the 2021 event arguably helped cement the possibility of the upcoming program. Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on June 26 this year that a memorandum of understanding was signed between the university and the education division of the Taipei Mission in Sweden.

According to Taiwan’s top representative in Sweden Vincent Yao (姚金祥), the de-facto embassy also intends to explore collaboration with the university in semiconductors and biomedical research. He added that Svein Stølen, the university’s rector, has been invited to visit Taiwan.

The Taiwan Research Seminar Program was incepted in 2003 by the MOE and a number of well-known universities around the world, aiming to promote Taiwan’s soft power andboost its global influence.

Since then, there are 44 programs being conducted with 43 universities in 20 countries and territories.

The Taiwan Research Seminar Program is the first time Norway has entered into such a partnership with Taiwan, and is also the first long-term symposium initiated in any higher learning schools in Northern Europe.

(By Gu Yong-zhen and James Lo)