This week, Simon Beeston, Director of the Admissions Testing Service (a department of Cambridge English Language Assessment), discusses the increasing importance of English communication skills for studying at tertiary level worldwide.


There has been a long history of international students travelling to the US, UK, Australia and other predominantly English-speaking countries in order to study higher education degree programmes.  But this is no longer restricted to English-speaking countries, with many universities around the world now starting to offer English-medium degrees at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  This is particularly true for subjects like medicine and engineering, where there is already a high level of international collaboration in both academic and professional spheres of activity. This is increasingly the case for many other degree disciplines too.

One important result of this process of internationalisation is the range of choice it provides students with. They now have a greater number of international locations where they can study and, perhaps crucially, have visibility and choice over how much their course costs.  But to capitalise on this opportunity for international study, students very often need to show evidence of their English language competence, and in some cases, their specific aptitude for a particular vocational or academic course.  Cambridge English Language Assessment provides a range of certificated examinations that universities around the world recognise as evidence of English language competence and readiness for higher education.  Cambridge English Advanced (CAE) and IELTS are two such examples of gateway tests into higher education, which are recognised by thousands of institutions around the world.  

The ability to communicate effectively in English is an obvious and important requirement for students intending to study an English-medium degree course.  What is interesting is that universities and, in some cases, ministries of higher education are increasingly using specific aptitude tests as part of the selection process for prospective students.  For example, universities in the UK, Italy and the Netherlands are using the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) and International Medical Admissions Test (IMAT) for prospective medical students, with thousands of students every year already taking these tests, to help prove they’ve got what it takes to study medicine at degree level. The key element of these tests is that while the subject matter should be familiar to the candidates through their previous study, the admissions test and course content are delivered in English. 

Given the overall cost of study at an overseas university, it is a small price to pay for a student to find out if they are the right person for their chosen course.

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