TOEFL is required as English became a basic requirement for jobs in South Korea, even ones completely unrelated to English. Even children are taking the test. I don’t have to mention that they’re not supposed to take it since TOEFL is targeted to candidates in their last high school year or first semester at the university. The market for TOEFL in South Korea is not huge, it is gigantic: The bank of Korea estimated in 2005 that about 54,8 million Euro are spent annually for study. The linked page gives a good explanation about the sociocultural reasons why everybody is learning English.
This year, it happened that the TOEFL online registration system (a.k.a. iSER) broke down for several weeks. Worldwide, nobody was able to register online. It’s no wonder if you have one server and hundreds of thousands of customers trying to register. This was certainly the case in South Korea. The cbt TOEFL, the computer-based variety, was taken by 130,000 in 2006. Since ibt TOEFL got introduced, the numbers were cut to less than one fourth. The numbers vary depending on who you ask. The rest of the unlucky ones who didn’t get a seat yet are even hiring people to do so for them or fly to other countries to take the test. The ETS server got pounded by Korean customers, once there were 32 million hits in one day when free seats for July admins were up to grabs. Now, that’s desperation.
ETS is going to loose a lot of customers if they don’t expand their network capacity fast: The South Korean government might create a test of their own to depend less on TOEFL. It’ll take them a few years though, and even then, ETS has a head start of several decades in language tests and a couple of years in internet-based testforms. TOEFL is a global operation, involving thousands of people working hard for it for years.
After the debacle with excluding South Korea from July admins lawyers took it in their hands and filed a complaint at the Fair Trade Commission. In the meanwhile, the importance of TOEFL is decreasing, applicants for foreign language schools are among the first who don’t need to take the TOEFL anymore.
Lee Yong-Tak (who has an English name like every English language learner in this country: his name is Paul), who has been appointed as country manager for South Korea on June 1st will need every help he can get to end the TOEFL crisis in South Korea. My advice: Four cities can’t possibly meet demand for the whole country, get every university and language school equipped with computers on board asap.