ETS kowtows to Beijing by posting 'Taiwan, China' on TOEFL site

Taiwanese students infuriated by Educational Testing Service's listing of 'Taiwan, China' on its TOEFL website, threaten to switch to IETLS

Screenshot of ETS TOEFEL registration page. (Image from PTT)

Screenshot of ETS TOEFEL registration page. (Image from PTT)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Taiwanese students preparing to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) became incensed when they discovered Educational Testing Service (ETS) had kowtowed to Beijing's bullying by changing its listing of Taiwan to "Taiwan, China" on its corporate website, leading to angry letters and threats to switch to its rival.

Students at English cram schools in Taiwan in recent days discovered that the TOEFL registration page for the US-based, supposedly "nonprofit" testing service ETS had suddenly changed its listing for "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China." By Thursday of last week, Taiwanese netizens on the popular online forum PTT posted a screen capture of the change to the TOEFL registration page.

On Saturday (Aug. 18), an enraged Taiwanese student posted to PTT an email he had sent to ETS complaining that both the registration page and their own personal address had been suddenly been changed to "Taiwan, China." The student reminded ETS of the fact that Taiwan has never actually been ruled by Communist China and that the U.S. should "stand for common values, which are democracy and human rights."

The student also reminded the "nonprofit" global conglomerate, which has been accused of being a monopoly, that it should not be "begging for higher revenue from such an unfair market." He lamented that if the name is not changed back to simply "Taiwan" he said that he will be frustrated while taking the TOEFL test which "should represent inspiring 'American Values.'"

"I have done some TOEFL registrations via your official website. However, I am surprised to see that recently the website changed the location of 'Taiwan' to 'Taiwan, China', including my personal address. As a citizen living in democratic and independent country, I am proud that we have our own government in Taiwan and have never been ruled by China, communist party. As a leader of all democratic countries, should the USA stand for common values, which are democracy and human rights, instead of begging for higher revenue from such an unfair market, which has manipulated the rest of the world for decades? I sincerely request you to change the description of location back to 'Taiwan' only. Or, I will be very frustrated along with complex emotions regarding TOEFL tests that should represent inspiring 'American Values.'"

Screen capture of ETS TOEFEL registration page. (Taiwan News)

Today (Aug. 22) another, much longer letter directed at ETS was posted on PTT. A person who claimed to represent over 5,000 students preparing to take the TOEFL requested that the corporation change the name back to "Taiwan" or "Taiwan, R.O.C." as is printed on their passports.

The author of the letter argued that the name change is contrary to ETS's stated mission to "advance quality and equity in education for all people worldwide." The student explained that having "Taiwan, China" on their transcript would diminish from the diversity of backgrounds it professes and deprives them the opportunity to be distinguishable from the thousands of Chinese students who apply for universities and graduate schools.

The writer then warned that if ETS refuses to correct the name, Taiwanese students could retaliate by taking the rival International English Language Testing System (IETLS) test instead, as its website still lists Taiwan as a separate country and on its transcript.

The following is the full text of the letter emailed to the ETS headquarters address and the ETS spokesperson's address sent today:

We are more than 5,000 students who plan to/are taking TOEFL this year. A few days ago, we noticed that on the ETS website, “Taiwan ” has been changed to “Taiwan, China” in both the nationality column upon registering for a test and in the address section. We find this change really disappointing and firmly believe that this is against the values ETS strives to protect. Therefore, we, the test-takers from Taiwan, strongly urge ETS to change the nationality back to “Taiwan” only, or to “Taiwan, R.O.C” as that is what is shown on our passport.

While we appreciate the effort ETS has spent on improving testing, teaching and learning, we think it is essential that the nonprofit ETS fights back on threats or temptations to alter the pre- existing “Taiwan” nationality, for the action steers away from ETS’ mission to “advance quality and equity in education for all people worldwide”. We the Taiwanese test-takers firmly believe that with “Taiwan, China” shown on our transcript, ETS not only denies the diverse student background it acknowledges and respects, but deprives the Taiwanese students of the chance to be seen as different from the Chinese students by universities and graduate schools we wish to apply for. Born and raised in Taiwan, we find our life stories very different from the Chinese applicants and consider it essential to emphasize the diversity we can bring to the foreign institutions we are applying for, and thus, we strongly urge ETS to change our nationality back to “ Taiwan” only.

For the past years, most of the Taiwanese test-takers prefer TOEFL to IETLS. However, the sudden change of “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, China” seems to us antithetical to the values that ETS as a nonprofit should protect and also steers away from what form the cornerstones of both U.S. and Taiwan’s democracy. This change then has to deal with the full force of the Taiwanese test-takers and perhaps even the foreign institutions we wish to apply for. More than 5,000 of the Taiwanese test-takers this year and in the years to come might change our minds to take IELTS instead, as IELTS still lists “Taiwan” as a nation on its website and on its transcript. We have also started writing to schools we wish to apply for, complaining about this change and asking the admission committees to value IETLS scores more. To avoid this action turning into a movement, once again, we suggest ETS to change “ Taiwan, China” back to “Taiwan” only.

All in all, we don’t see ETS’ concerns and action being legitimate in this case, and we not only urge ETS to put “Taiwan ” back on its website, but ask for an explanation to why this action has been taken. We strongly feel that only by listing “ Taiwan” as a nation on the ETS website, can ETS live up to its mission to “advance quality and equity in education for all people worldwide”, and can it win continuous support from the Taiwanese test-takers as well as the schools from around the world.

Because of its nonprofit status, ETS is not subject to taxes on its worldwide earnings.