Starting this year, foreign students applying for scholarships from the government will be tested on their Mandarin proficiency, in an exam similar to the TOEFL taken by Taiwanese students wishing to study in an English-speaking country.
The Ministry of Education hopes to begin test runs of the examination no later than June and officially start the program next year. Details will be made available today.
Currently, local language training centers have their own language proficiency tests to gauge their students' level of learning. The Ministry of Education hopes to establish a standardized criteria with the exam.
Chang Chin-sheng (張欽盛), director of the Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations under the Ministry of Education, told the Taipei Times yesterday that at first only potential applicants for the Taiwan Scholarship in certain countries will be asked to take the test, including those in the US, Russia, India, Japan and Vietnam.
The education ministry is expecting 510 recipients from 86 countries to begin courses in the fall semester, including 41 from the US, 29 from Russia, 25 from India, 24 from Japan and 20 from Vietnam. A total of 668 Taiwan Scholarship students from 86 countries are studying in Taiwan.
Since the finalists for the scholarships will be decided in June, Chang said that potential candidates will have to take the test before then.
So far, only Thailand specifies the test in its application bulletin, Chang said.
The Taiwan Scholarship program is designed to attract foreign students to study Taiwan's culture, language and customs, and to increase their understanding of the nation's development.
The government hopes to see the number of foreign students pursuing graduate or undergraduate degrees here rise to 5,000 by 2014.
The scholarships are being funded by the Ministry of Education (NT$150 million), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NT$50 million), the Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (NT$50 million), the National Science Council as well as the Ministry of Economic Affairs (NT$15 million).
The scholarships are available in six categories, including for Chinese, undergraduate and the graduate studies.
The annual quota for the three scholarships is 300.
Diplomatic scholarships will be granted to students who are residents of the nation's diplomatic allies or of developing countries. The annual quota for this category is about 200.
The ministry's Mandarin promotion task force, which is collaborating with Taiwan Normal University in the design of the test, said that the examination would be divided into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
The first two categories have two sub-levels, while the advanced level has three.
Foreign students who wish to major in Chinese or related language programs must possess a language level of six, while those wanting to undertake undergraduate or graduate studies must pass at least the beginning level of the test.
The examination, which contains 120 multiple choice questions and lasts 120 minutes, consists of listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar as well as reading comprehension.