Australia satisfied with English tests

09 January, 2014

Alternative English proficiency language tests introduced into Australia’s student visa programme in 2011 have met their objectives, according to a recently released review of their implementation by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The Toefl iBT, Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) and Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE) tests were adopted in November 2011 as alternatives to the Ielts test for evidence of English language competence in student visa applications.

“The providers’ integrity measures were of a high standard in terms of test centre security, test content, training and qualification of markers and invigilators. These standards were consistent with the providers’ initial submissions to deliver English language tests for the student visa programme,” said the report.

The report also outlined the benefits to students. “Overseas students intending to study in Australia have more choice in the type of English language test and frequency in test appointments following the introduction of alternative English language proficiency tests.” It was also highlighted that in Australia, most of the new tests are cheaper than Ielts.

The report reveals that alternative providers struggled to gain significant market share from Ielts in the first year of operation: the three tests combined accounted for only three per cent of the 16,143 student visa applications in the review period of December 2011 to November 2012. The Toefl iBT test accounted for 1.93 per cent of applications, followed by PTE on 0.81 and CAE on 0.02 per cent – just four students.

However, the report noted, “There are signs that the take-up rate may be increasing, which is likely to be assisted with further promotion by alternative English language test providers and recognition of their test by prospective students, student recruitment agents and Australian universities.”

Furthermore, a change in student visa processing arrangements from March 2012 meant that universities were able to independently assess whether students had an appropriate level of English, meaning usage of the tests by university students may be more widespread. In interviews with the review panel, Cambridge stressed that their strategy had been to persuade universities to accept CAE, with 32 of the 39 universities now accepting the test.

One of the barriers to increasing market share was cited as Ielts’ dominance across all visa classes and immigration pathways. The government is currently considering whether the three English exams should be extended to other visa programmes.

A survey of students as part of the review revealed alternative tests were selected on reputation and then by location, and that 85 per cent would choose the same alternative English language test in the future if required.

Of the 447 student visa applicants that used a test other than Ielts, 94 per cent were granted a visa. India was the dominant nationality among students that had completed the alternative tests, with 155 using Toefl and 96 submitting PTE.

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