Ni hui shuo yingwen ma? It's a question of degrees

Wan Lixin
When one university suggested it would scrap an English proficiency test as a condition for a degree, controversy erupted.
Wan Lixin

The storm of controversy over a recent college circular that English test results would be no longer be required for earning a college degree is largely misguided, and misleading.

On September 20, a circular issued by Xi'an Jiaotong University suggested that an academic degree would no longer be conditional on a student's test results on the College English Test.

Strident reaction to the circular is odd because many institutions of higher education have been "decoupling" from English proficiency test requirements for years. Some online trolls with ulterior motives are stirring up a big fuss, with some calling it "the end of an era."

Such allegations are sensationalist and misleading.

Making English proficiency a condition for a college degree has always been at the discretion of individual institutes of higher education. There is no national decree.

Sichuan University, for instance, has been practicing this "decoupling" for years.

On the other hand, suggestions that this decoupling is tantamount to downplaying the importance of the English language are also misleading. English remains a required subject in college curricula, so flunking the subject could lead to serious consequences.

Nor does the recent notice issued in Xi'an hint at any change of stance on the part of national educational authorities.

In 2013, in a written reply to a proposal by some deputies of the National People's Congress, the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council, China's cabinet, stated that the committee had never made CET test results a prerequisite for awarding an academic degree.

Given that this issue is a matter of discretion by individual schools, it's not unexpected that some institutions will update degree requirements as they see fit. Removing English proficiency test results as a condition has been in practice since 2005.

Commentators who argue that learning English is useless seem more interested in collecting online clicks than participating in a reasoned debate.

A number of English-language experts have pointed out that it would be more productive to focus on practical learning of the language instead of on test scores. Anyway, students with better English might enjoy better employment opportunities.

As education expert Xiong Bingqi wrote in a recent article, removing English proficiency from degree requirements might liberate teachers and students from test-oriented English study and enable more focus on practice use of the language.

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