IELTS monopoly weakened

Photo: shho

Photo: shho

APPLICANTS for study visas into Australia are now able to demonstrate their English proficiency through passing any one of four tests

This partially ends the monopoly previously held by the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Students can now take either the IELTS, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) and the Cambridge English Advanced (CAE).

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen first announced the changes last May.

“We have given careful consideration when selecting these three English language test providers to ensure that high standards of integrity are maintained and that test score results are appropriately safeguarded,” he said.

“These additional English language test options will help to create competition in the English language testing market, while creating more test places for student visa applicants.”

“They will also provide candidates with greater choice and enable them to more quickly obtain test results needed for visa applications.”

It can take several months to receive the results of an IELTS test. It is hoped the greater number of tests the competition will speed up this process, and make it cheaper.

The changes are the result of a review into the IELTS testing monopoly that began more than three years ago.

Kim Huynh, an international student at Melbourne Uni, was in Australia for two years before she took the IELTS test. She said she didn’t find the test very difficult, but that she knew international students who had.

“One common comment is that your score depends a bit on luck – in terms of which country you take it in, who the examiners are, and which topic it is,” she said.

Sarah Soh did the IELTS test for her permanent residency application, and also easily passed it. But she said it tacked an extra $300 on international students when many of them come from countries where English is used extensively.

“It’s quite annoying that Singapore and Malaysia aren’t recognised as countries proficient in English, especially since all our academic qualifications were conducted in English,” she said.

That won’t change with the inclusion of more tests.

But many have welcomed the recent changes, even if they don’t address all the problems with language testing.

Swinburne’s Pro Vice- Chancellor (International and Recruitment) Jeffrey Smart said this was great news for Australian universities. He stressed the acceptance of the TOEFL test, which is taken in 165 countries and is one of the most popular English language tests in the world.

David Hunt, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ETS’s Global Division, who own and administer the TOEFL test, said that nearly every university and college in Australia already accepts TOEFL scores for admission purposes.

“With this decision, many more international students will be able to consider Australian universities without having to take a second English test for visa purposes. We think this is good for both international students and Australian higher education.”

Another test now accepted is the PTE Academic. It’s done entirely online over four hours, with applicants attending a testing centre and doing the test in a booth.

It assesses reading, writing, listening and speaking, and is marked electronically by the computer program. This means scores can be released more quickly.

If, at the end of the exam, a student doesn’t want their mark recorded, they can abort the test.

The fourth test is the Cambridge English Advanced, which was created especially for university study.

As well as testing the fours skills tested by other exams – reading, writing, speaking and listening – it also covers grammar and vocabulary.

IELTS still the only test accepted for work visas/PR

The decision to broaden the tests that are accepted does not follow through to work visa assessments international students may take after graduating.

Changes recommended by the Knight Review and adopted by the Government mean a two to four year work visa will be available for international students after graduation, so that they can gain some work experience before going home. Such visas currently require an IELTS test mark.

Furthermore, some professional organisations, such as CPA Australia, currently require students to take an IELTS test to demonstrate proficiency.

In the statement released last May, the department of immigration said “the Government will closely monitor and review the implementation of the new tests to determine whether these should be introduced for other visa programs at a later date.”

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