No Reprieve for English Language Testing Company

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, November 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

No Reprieve for English Language Testing Company


ETS claims that blocking accreditation of exam may harm UK institutions. Chris Havergal writes

The language testing company that became embroiled in a crackdown on student visa fraud has been blocked from regaining Home Office accreditation - prompting it to claim that UK universities risk falling further behind in international recruitment.

In their first interview since losing their Secure English Language Test status in February over allegations of organised cheating by some students, senior staff at the Princeton-based Educational Testing Service told Times Higher Education that, although they had made mistakes, they had also made significant improvements to security.

ETS realised that these would prove insufficient to regain accreditation for visa purposes for ETS's Test of English as a Foreign Language exam, because the Home Office decided that applications would be judged against past performance. Even though no concerns had been raised about TOEFL, it had previously shared a single licence with another ETS exam, Test of English for International Communication, which was the focus of the BBC Panorama investigation.

David Payne, ETS's vice-president and chief operating officer, declined to criticise the government's decision and said the organisation remained committed to the UK market.

ETS said large numbers of British universities - including 70 per cent of the Russell Group - were accepting overseas students with the TOEFL qualification under "vouching" provisions, where the institution guarantees an applicant's language ability for visa purposes.

But Dr Payne claimed that restrictions on the TOEFL, which ETS describes as the world's most popular and widely accepted English language exam, could be damaging to the country's universities.

Dr Payne said that students taking the TOEFL had previously been able to apply to study anywhere in the English-speaking world and that the lack of accreditation "puts another barrier or hurdle" between them and UK institutions. …

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