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Resolving the Issue of the Misrepresentation of Taiwan in the Online Stores of UK Universities

Since 2010, the Education Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK has been engaged tirelessly in communications with universities, organisations, and businesses to rectify the misrepresentation of Taiwan as a province of mainland China in lists, references, online forms, and visa documentation. The Education Division took action after receiving complaints from Taiwanese students within the UK who were distressed and frustrated to find their country and nationality described inaccurately by their own institutions.

Resolving the issue was a lengthy process requiring a number of different approaches. Education Division personnel first contacted Taiwanese students enrolled at universities throughout the UK, and encouraged them to report any instances in which they found Taiwan referred to in an unsatisfactory way. Individual letters were then sent to every university involved, explaining the background to the Taiwan issue and politely requesting that the incorrect represntation be rectified. Most universities agreeed to amend their online systems accordingly in order to preserve good relations with current and future Taiwanese students. At the same time, the links were also developed between the Education Division and several UK universities, benefitting staff and students alike, and facilitating cooperation and exchanges.

The Education Division also liaised with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in the UK on several occasions during this period to clarify what regulations pertain to the representation of Taiwan in the published and online materials of UK universities. As a result of these communications, HESA agreed to include a note in its guidelines for institutions stating that individual universities were under no obligation to include ‘Province of China’ after the name ‘Taiwan’ in any of their publications or documentation.

In 2013, the efforts of the Education Division were strengthened. They identified that the remaining situations in which Taiwan was misidentified could all be attributed to a specific software provider utilised by 140 higher education institutes across the UK. The Education Division attempted to communicate with the company in question but the company proved unwilling to make changes to its systems; it did not even respond to letters, e-mails, and telephone calls from the Education Division. Director Yen-Heng Ouyang then encouraged as many universities as possible to write to the company to express their displeasure. While the universities themselves had been unable to alter the systems they had purchased from the company, their status as major clients left the company with no option but to respond to the valid concerns raised.

Finally, the Education Division was notified that all remaining systems were to be amended to ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Republic of China’ without any qualification. In that one final year alone, the Education Division issued 83 communications to universities, publishers, online sales providers, authors, and events organisers, as well as those to HESA and the education solutions provider already referred to. Eventually their sustained endeavours resulted in a positive outcome respecting the wishes of the Taiwanese government and overseas students within the UK.