International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
The International English Language Testing System or more commonly known as IELTS is the brainchild of the British and Australian. It is an international standardised test of English language proficiency. IELTS has effectively been granted the monopoly power when both the British and Australian home office made it compulsory for student visa applicants to take the test. IELTS is also used as a benchmark for skilled migration applicants. Students sometime even complain that waiting time is too long because too many people are in the queue to take IELTS.
The test fee is not cheap either. It is not an amount that any student can easily afford. The test fee in the UK is priced at 110 sterling pounds per attempt. Test results that have lapsed for two years is generally considered as outdated by the immigration department and a new test has to be taken. However, no official figures have been released to show how big the UK English proficiency test market really is. According to anecdotal evidence, the similar market in Australia is estimated about 27 million sterling pounds. Archived records from the UK Department of Education and Employment also showed that British English language products were worth about 800 million sterling pounds in 1988. This huge figure is not surprising because most students will pay additional money to go for IELTS focused tuition.
On the other side of the globe, the Australian Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans have indicated that alternative English proficiency tests will soon be recognised for immigration purposes. Many other test providers welcome this decision. One of them is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is designed by the Americans in 1964. Another new test provider, world-wide publisher Pearson, is also said to have applied to the Australian government for an official status. These competitors are very keen to bite off some market share of IELTS.
Australian Minister’s decision is likely to be influenced by the fact that the Australian economy relies a lot on overseas students. The influx of Chinese, Indian and Iranian students are now at the highest in history. These emerging countries have fast growing economies and parents are now financially capable to send their children to Australia, UK and the USA for education. However, not all of the students would have chosen to take IELTS. Many of them would have taken TOEFL because they are also applying to academic institutions in the USA. It is wise of the Australian Minister to realise that by making IELTS the only option, it is likely to alienate potential overseas students together with the school fees they bring to Australia.
IELTS also came under some bad press in November 2009 in India. The British Council is responsible for administering the IELTS in India; however, their employees have been alleged to be taking money to sit the exam for others. Critics commented the issue here is because the British Council does not submit itself to any external audit. They also argued that unless IELTS is taken off the monopoly seat, these fraudulent incidents will continue.
Perhaps it is true when an organisation is in a monopoly position; it is also very susceptible to being abused. I think we should seriously re-assess our approach to the English proficiency test in the UK.