An Ontario college raised concerns about the validity of scores on a popular international standardized language test submitted by students who applied from India after an investigation found "inconsistencies" in language proficiency.
Niagara College has contacted more than 400 students admitted to their January 2019 programs who have taken IELTS tests in locations in India, saying they had to pass a second English test or risk losing their admission offer.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is accepted by most Canadian academic institutions and is one of the two major English tests used by Immigration Canada as proof independent of the language proficiency of an applicant for immigration or citizenship.
Steve Hudson, vice president of academic and learning services at Niagara College, said the school began an investigation in the second semester after the number of first-year international students flagged by faculty "academically at risk" rose to 300, in average of 150. previous years.
These students were taken to take an internal language test and the college found that 200 of them were failing in their academic programs because their English was not at the required level. More investigations found that 80 percent of them were from India and conducted their IELTS tests at sites run by IDP Education, based in Australia.
Niagara College said authorities alerted IDP Education to their findings shortly after the start of the fall semester and notified immigration authorities last week.
"Based on (our analysis), we felt that we needed to be absolutely sure that the candidates for our winter 2019 period have a level of proficiency in English that would allow them to succeed, and we wanted to do it before they invested time and money significant travel here to study, "Hudson said in a statement to Star.
The IELTS test, which is jointly owned by IDP Education of the British Council and Cambridge Assessment English, is a three-hour exam that assesses the listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills of candidates on a scale of 1 to 9. One A score of 9 indicates that the person is an "experienced user" with the full command of the language. But it is up to individual organizations to determine an approval score.
More than three million IELTS tests were conducted last year by people around the world, according to IDP Education.
"The test is recognized to be fair to all candidates regardless of nationality, cultural background, gender or special needs," Warwick Freeland, director of IELTS / IDP Education, said in an e-mailed statement from Melbourne.
"IELTS is the leading test of English for international students in Canada," he said, adding that "the results of all IELTS test centers, including all centers located in India, are still accepted for admission to Niagara College" .
In a follow-up email to Star on Saturday, IDP Education has raised questions about the value of the internal test that Niagara College gave Indian international students in the fall cohort, saying the college "used a low-risk test" which is "not approved by Canadian educational institutions or by the government to check their English language skills. "
Hudson of Niagara College said the results of the IELTS tests presented by India's first-year risk students this fall were authenticated by the IELTS and the school is addressing "inconsistencies" in their scores and proficiency in languages as a single anomaly. "We continue to believe that IELTS is a good test to assess proficiency in English," he told Star.
"We have been open to dialogue with IDP and have communicated our interest in understanding (a) the rationale for the largest number of students identified as at risk of failure," Hudson said in a follow-up email on Saturday. "Academic quality and student success have always been and will remain at the heart of Niagara College's decisions."
A spokesman for the Immigration Department said authorities were investigating the matter.
There have been previous instances that exposed the vulnerability of administering language tests around the world:
- A student at Pennsylvania State University in China pleaded guilty this year after paying someone to take the TOEFL English test for her.
- In 2016, several people in Britain were convicted of executing an immigration scheme that paid for false "assistants" to take TOEIC language exams for non-EU students.
- In Australia, an employee of Curtin University's English Language Center was found guilty in 2011 of taking bribes and manipulating IELTS results through the center's computer system. The case triggered an investigation by the Western Australia Corruption and Crime Commission.
Freeland, who said that IDP Education has partnerships with a number of organizations running IELTS in 140 countries, said that "IELTS is a valid and reliable indicator of a candidate's ability."
"All test centers are strictly monitored to ensure they operate to the highest standards," he said.
The test, which costs about $ 215 in India, has two versions, one for higher-level academic purposes and a general version that measures a person's ability to function in English.
Niagara College said the school will be responsible for covering the cost of retreating for the 428 students in India and the tests are due to be completed by Monday.
Gonzalo Peralta, CEO of Languages Canada, an association representing more than 200 accredited English and French language program providers across the country, said maintaining the integrity of language tests is important to the international education industry.
"The language test is a tool that tells everyone – students, institutions, Canadian Immigration and employers – with the confidence that that person is ready to perform linguistically," he said in an interview. "You can not administer international education without proper testing and good quality. So much depends on it.
Peralta said test operators are constantly updating their security measures and have strict rules in place at local testing centers, including the requirement of photo identification and the ban on cell phones.
When informed of the situation at Niagara College, Peralta said, "I am concerned that this affects one of our good members, Niagara College." I am also concerned about students who have invested substantially to learn. what happened. "
According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, there were 494,525 international students in Canada at all study levels in 2017, an increase of 17% over the previous year. About 123,940, or 25 percent of these students came from India, which was the second largest contingent behind China.
At Niagara College, which has campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, 2,914 of a total of 4,683 international students come from India. Tuition fees for international students are $ 13,500 on average, more than triple the amount paid by their Canadian peers.
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Hudson said the school received about 8,200 international applications for the winter period of 2019, of which 4,800 were from India, where the school recruits through international education fairs. The college made 1,300 admission offers for Indian candidates; 428 of these students were asked to retake the IELTS test or to take the Pearson alternative English test.
"We recognize that this is stressful for these candidates and their families, but we want to make sure that before they make significant financial and emotional investments involved in traveling to Niagara College to study, they have the opportunity to succeed in their studies," Hudson said.
"We believe that the difficulties they would experience if they traveled here and could not succeed in their study program would be much more significant. We will continue to get involved with the candidates and the IDP throughout this process. "
Hudson said that at-risk students who are already attending college were redirected to language programs or offered additional language and academic support.
Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter who covers immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung