Students revolt over ‘Taiwan, China’ switch for English language test
Change to website menu by US-based non-profit Educational Testing Service prompts open letter said to have the backing of more than 5,000 students
A popular English-language proficiency test angered Taiwanese students after its official website modified the way it listed Taiwan to fall in line with Beijing’s claims over the self-ruled island.
Thousands of students lodged protests with the US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) this week over the change to its drop-down menu of testing locations for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam – widely used for university admission – to describe the self-ruled island as “Taiwan, China”.
An open letter to the non-profit service that claimed to have the backing of more than 5,000 students demanded ETS change the listing back to “Taiwan” only, threatening to switch to TOEFL’s Britain-based rival International English Language Testing System (IELTS), according to the Taiwan News.
“The sudden change of ‘Taiwan’ to ‘Taiwan, China’ seems to us antithetical to the values that ETS as a non-profit should protect and also steers away from what forms the cornerstones of both US and Taiwan’s democracy,” the letter said.
ETS did not respond to requests for comment on Friday about when and why the change was made, or about discrepancies across the website in how Taiwan was classified.
A spokesman told Taiwan’s Central News Agency late on Thursday that the non-profit attached great importance to students from all regions and looked forward to serving candidates from all over the world.
The move comes after foreign airlines, hoteliers and clothing brands made similar adjustments to how they refer to Taiwan, caving to demands from Beijing and patriotic mainland Chinese citizens on social media.
Beijing claims Taiwan as a renegade province that must one day be reunited with the mainland, and has condemned any actions that could be seen as de facto recognition of the Taipei government.
In recent months, Beijing has escalated pressure on Taipei with military drills around the island, while pushing Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies to sever official ties.
It has also offered economic sweeteners to lure Taiwanese talent and companies to the mainland.
The political tensions have spilled over into the business world, with companies fearing a backlash from nationalistic mainland consumers, who greatly outnumber those in Taiwan.
More than 600,000 mainlanders opted to study abroad last year, compared with more than 60,000 from Taiwan, according to government figures in Beijing and Taipei respectively.
Although ETS did not publicise the number of mainland Chinese students taking its test, it has more than 200 TOEFL testing sites on the mainland.
TOEFL is recognised by more than 10,000 colleges, universities and agencies in countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States, according to its website.
ETS has got into hot water over its classification of Taiwan before, referring to the island in 2006 as a “province of China” before switching to “Taiwan” after intervention from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei, according to the Taipei Times.