12/02/2011, 00.00
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Historic agreement between the Holy See and Taiwan on the recognition of university degrees

by Bernardo Cervellera
Signed today, the agreement provides for mutual recognition of qualifications between ecclesiastical universities around the world, linked to the Holy See, and universities recognized by the Taiwan Ministry of Education. For Card. Grocholewski this is a contribution to the internationalization of culture, which also benefits Taiwan. For President Ma Ying-jeou the agreement helps make Taiwan "a centre of higher education for East Asia". Even the Catholic teaching will be part of the curricula in Catholic institutions.
Taipei (AsiaNews) - "With this agreement, the world opens up to Taiwan and Taiwan to the world" was the enthusiastic comments of Msgr. Paul Russell, charge d'affaires of the Holy See in Taiwan (Republic of China), on the historic agreement signed today by Card. Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education and the Education Minister Ching-ji WU.

Thanks to this agreement, titles, diplomas and degrees earned at ecclesiastical universities worldwide will be recognized in Taiwan. Similarly, the titles of Taiwanese universities will be recognized by all worldwide ecclesiastical universities.

"There are over 650 ecclesiastical universities worldwide” - says Msgr. Russell. “Here in Taiwan there is an ecclesiastical faculty run by Jesuits, Bellarmine College, where theology is taught. For its part, Taiwan has 161 colleges and universities. From now on, students and teachers in Taiwan can go to any ecclesiastical faculty in the world, our students and teachers can come to Taiwan with recognized degrees. This will generate a huge amount of visits and exchanges, collaboration. If there is exchange, there is understanding, if there is understanding there is more peace in the world. For this reason I say that with this agreement, the world opens up to Taiwan and Taiwan to the world. "

Relations between universities on a global level is an increasingly present reality. Fr. Friederich Bechina, from the Congregation for Catholic Education, notes: "The national Napoleonic-style university is on its way out. Now the original value of the university is emerging, as a place where you search for the truth that lies above the idea of nationhood, no one nation possesses the full truth, which, instead, is universal”.

For this reason, international cooperation is increasingly important. But even more urgent than increased collaboration is the recognition of degrees and diplomas from one country to another. For this purpose, there are already six UNESCO conventions: two for the Mediterranean and the Arab states, one for Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the West (with Israel) . The Holy See participates as a member in all committees, being present with the Church throughout the world. "

With the agreement signed today, Taiwan enters more effectively in the international academic world. In fact - as noted by a local professor - "Taiwan has no diplomatic relations with UNESCO, but it does have sound academic institutions and our exclusion from the circuit of international universities was not right."

Meeting President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday, Card. Grocholewski (see photo) stressed the contribution that the Holy See to the internationalization of culture: "The Holy See is interested in international relations. All our universities are international, primarily because they belong to the Catholic family which is universal and also because there are many countries in the world. Every three years they gather for a World Congress of Catholic Universities, and the next will take place in Sao Paulo (Brazil). We can hope that an upcoming conference will also be held in Taipei. By doing this, the Holy See - in close relationship with UNESCO - strengthens global relations from intellectual point of view, which may also benefit Taipei and Taiwan. "

For his part, President Ma Ying-jeou, sees the agreement as very positive. One of the tracks for the development of the island - he explained - is to make Taiwan "a center of higher education for East Asia". Already, there are at least 50 thousand foreign students in Taiwan, from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, India, mainland China. "We expect - he added - that by 2020 there will be at least 130 thousand students in our universities."

The agreement will also have a local impact: it will also grant the titles and degrees earned in the faculty of theology run by the Jesuits, legal value. Fr. Augustine Tsang, dean of the faculty, says that "finally the people here who pursue a degree will be entitled to find work in Taiwanese society."

The school of theology currently gathers 174 students for day courses and 64 for evenings. An important fact: this faculty also has international students who come from Malaysia, Korea, Singapore as well as from Taiwan. Usually they belong to religious international orders who send their members to Taiwan for theological studies in Chinese, to prepare them for mission in Chinese-speaking communities. This year there is even a Russian Orthodox, who is preparing to serve the Chinese communities of Heilongjiang and Siberia.

A final but important aspect of the agreement is that it works by recognizing the right of Catholic schools and universities to incorporate into their teaching curriculum linked to the Catholic faith.

Fr. Bechini, who helped draft the agreement, said: "Taiwan has excellent diplomatic relations with the Holy See. But their legislation, with regard to religious education, is rather restrictive, because they are afraid of proselytism. For Taiwan, there is religious freedom, but this should not be taught in schools. Thus, the explicit courses in theology and religious content are marginalized to the private sector. This was hard for us as a Catholic university - for example – we must also be transparent, giving an account of our identity.

And this not only in the confessional sense, in catechesis, which would be extra-curricular, but in the sense of giving a religious sensibility to teaching. For example, in medicine courses, this means teaching an explicit anthropology, a concept of man, from which all treatment depends. So we wanted to be able to put these teachings of Catholic inspiration into the curriculum, harmonized within the general education.

This is another important point of the agreement. We found a formula on the one hand respects the conscience of the people and does not force anyone, but at the same time sees Catholic content also contained within the curriculum, even if the student is free to choose them or not, acquiring credits in another way".

The agreement was a year in the making and saw the cooperation of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, the bishops of Taiwan, Fu Ren University, the other Catholic colleges. "First of all - says Msgr. Russell - we had to find a common view among ourselves and then we worked closely with the Ministry of Education, of the Interior [which carries the portfolio on faith communities - ed], the Foreign Ministry. We received enormous help from Taiwan’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Larry Wang, and the President Ma Ying-jeou. "

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