By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

April is already upon us, so hopefully you have by now received this month’s edition of StudyTravel Magazine.   

My cover story this month focuses on the English language exams sector, and I must admit I didn’t realise exactly how topical this would become when I was researching and writing the piece! Just before we went to press, the UK announced a major restructuring of its Secure English Language Test (SELT) procedures, greatly reducing the number of tests accepted and the number of centres that can be used for visa applications requiring proof of English.

The survey of agents that I conducted for the article provided some valuable insights into this sector, and I once again thank all those agencies that took part.

Ielts is the exam that is most often recommended by participating agents, and given Ielts’ dominance of the market in the UK and Australia (where it held a monopoly until three years ago), this is probably not surprising. So a glib response to the UK’s new rules – only Ielts outside the UK and Trinity and Ielts inside the UK will be accepted – would be that this doesn’t impact greatly on agents.

But one of the key issues cited by agents in the article was a lack of test availability, i.e. the absence of a test centre in an agency’s city or region. One agent said, “We are often delayed with visa applications and school registrations because we have to wait for their [exams] availability.” And all of this was conducted before the UK announcement of the UK-approved test centre list.

And although Ielts was the most popular exam in my survey, those agents that work with Australia were generally pleased that a range of exams are now valid for visa applications, seeing choice and competition as being generally good for students. So the narrowing of options for the UK may not be universally well received.

It should be pointed out that students applying directly to higher education institutions (HEIs) for undergraduate or postgraduate programmes in the UK may be able to use other exams or any Ielts test centre, as HEIs are still permitted to vouch for students language ability for these courses. However, students applying for a Tier 4 visa for other programmes, such as pathway/foundation courses or vocational programmes, will need a test certificate from an approved centre.

Another element that emerged in my special report is that many agencies are themselves exam centres – 23 per cent of those surveyed to be precise. The huge reduction in UK-approved centres therefore potentially directly affects business for those agents that operate test centres.

It is, unfortunately, another example of a government proceeding with policy without full consultation of industry – either from the educator or agent side; both Study UK and English UK have expressed anxiety about the impact of the new rules. And why new visa regulations are always implemented on the cusp of the busiest season of the year – rather than launching in October or November and bedding in for a few months – is beyond me.

We have a similar example over in Canada this week, where changes introduced in the International Experience Canada work experience stream for international students took the industry by surprise and have led to some employers having to add on fees or even cancel agreed placements. The changes will make hiring international students based outside of Canada for work experience more bureaucratic and expensive, and in this week’s ‘View from the desk of...’ article, Thomas Prieur of work experience and internship provider Stepwest writes about the impact of the timing and the changes.

Coming back to the April issue, we have an interesting article on safeguarding of juniors – a wonderful example of a language school association taking it upon itself to drive standards and then sharing this knowledge via the Gaela (Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations) forum – as well as an agency survey on France, where business is ticking along, a market analysis feature on trends in Ireland, and much else besides.

Happy reading!


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