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US Visa Hurdle Turns Students from TOEFL
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The Test of English as a Foreign Language, also called TOEFL, appears to be losing its grip in China, with a sharp decline in the number of people taking the test nationally. The latest test was just administered on Saturday.

Sources from the National Examination Center under the Ministry of Education said that it is still hard to say whether the number of TOEFL participants this year hit a record low.

In Beijing, TOEFL participants totaled around 10,000 this year, a sharp decline from more than 30,000 annually in previous years, Beijing-based China Youth Daily reported Monday.

The number of TOEFL examinees stood at 100,000 in peak years, the report said.

Officials at the Beijing headquarters of the New Oriental Education Group, an English training center in China, also witnessed an acute fall of TOEFL applicants in its training school, around a 30 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Wang Haibo, director of the TOEFL, GRE and GMAT Project in the education group, attributed the drop of the number to hard applications for US visas.

It became difficult for Chinese students to apply for US visas after September 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked the United States, Wang said.

Chinese students also have additional choices for studying abroad compared with years ago when TOEFL was a major channel for them, Wang said.

Besides TOEFL, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is also widely accepted by Chinese students, a partial reason for the decrease in the number of TOEFL participants, he said.

Wang predicted that the situation will go on if the United States continues its stricter visa policy.

In China, most of the participants of TOEFL are college students. Xu Qiongli, a graduate student in Beijing Broadcasting Institute, is among them.

Xu, who had planned to apply for scholarships from American universities, sat for the TOEFL examination on Saturday.

She complained that the number of people who are fortunate enough to succeed in applying for scholarships from American universities dropped largely in recent years, which had dampened  the enthusiasm her friends had to sit for the TOEFL examination.

Analysts say that Chinese students are increasingly practical about their plans for studying abroad, and more and more students are trying to seek opportunities for personal development instead of  paying the huge financial amounts for studying overseas.

Up to the time of going to press, the US-based Educational Testing Service, the organizer of the TOEFL examination, could not be reached to probe for the reason for the decline.

(China Daily November 18, 2003)


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