English-language testing: Enabling the UK to stay on the forefront of recruiting international students
“Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry”
Earlier this year, the UK government opted not to extend its licence agreement with global testing giant ETS to provide Secure English Language Testing as required in the student visa application process. Here its Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Payne argues against limiting TOEFL score acceptance, saying that changes to an open English-language testing environment built on choice can put at risk UK universities’ ability to attract the brightest and best international students.
One common way in which universities around the world do attract the brightest students is by relying on standardised, globally accessible English-language tests, such as the TOEFL iBT® test, to assess candidates and make informed admissions decisions.
However, recent changes threaten UK universities’ competitiveness, as the TOEFL test may now only be used under “vouching” provisions. In many parts of the world, the TOEFL test is far better known than any other English-proficiency test, and its worldwide testing network enables the best and brightest students to consider study in the UK. By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain its reputation and the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?
“By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?”
Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry. In 2012–13, international students made up 18% of the total student population, and 74% of master’s courses are taught by international students. Both numbers indicate the UK’s reliance on international students to fill UK university courses as both students and instructors. Indeed, a recent study from Universities UK stated strong public support for this industry, a view backed by businesses and the Institute of Directors.
English language tests matter. Often, students will take just one test, and they want to ensure it is accepted everywhere as they may apply to multiple institutions in different countries. Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students. A number of UK universities recognise this threat and continue to use the TOEFL test under vouching provisions as an important recruiting tool because they have confidence in its results.
“Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students”
The challenge is not just about enrolment figures, but how higher education institutions can vie for the revenue and intellectual capital they receive from recruiting an international student pool that is also highly sought after by the United States, France and Australia (where a five-year plan for international students has seen a 10 percent rise in international students) as well as emerging hubs such as China and Malaysia.
Australia is indicative here. The TOEFL test is accepted by the Australian government for student visas. The government has now announced its intention to begin using the test for visas for graduates as well as for almost all skilled, business, work and holiday categories. The decisive expansion of English-proficiency options by government means that Australian businesses now have access to a greater pool of potential employees than they did before.
As the world’s largest nonprofit private research and assessment organisation, ETS has a long, established tradition of research to ensure that the TOEFL test — currently recognised in over 130 countries — remains the gold standard for English-proficiency testing for university admissions. Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2014, the test is at the forefront of security innovation, including the implementation of biometric voice identification for all test takers worldwide — the only English-proficiency test to do so.
The UK remains a beacon for learning, celebrated for its role in welcoming students from around the world and grooming global citizens. International students bring significant benefits to the UK. A robust English-language testing environment, with choice and competition, is a small but important foundation upon which this is built. ETS and the TOEFL Program remain committed to UK universities and to working with the higher education sector in maintaining that international reputation.