International Students Protest High Costs and Repeated Demands of English Proficiency Tests in Australia
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According to an investigative article published by The Guardian, international students in Australia are voicing their frustration over the expensive and repeated English language tests required by Australian institutions. This situation has raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest, as universities financially benefit from the language tests, while some critics see a trace of xenophobia in this system.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Costly and Recurring English Tests: International students must undertake costly English language proficiency tests, costing around $400 each, which expire after two years, irrespective of whether they have lived in Australia for years or have completed degrees in English.
  2. Perceived Conflict of Interest: Universities, some of which are shareholders in IDP Education, the company responsible for the International English Language Testing System (Ielts), are also responsible for regulating it, raising conflict of interest concerns among students.
  3. Critics Decry System as Xenophobic and Exploitative: Greens education spokesperson, Mehreen Faruqi, among others, has criticized the system for exploiting international students, accusing it of having “xenophobic undertones”.

The Issue: Exorbitant English Testing

International students aiming to study in Australia are required to pass one of five accepted English language tests for visa approval. However, even after passing the tests and completing their studies, they are required to retake the tests for certain workplaces or to undertake further study in the country.

Yusef, an international student who spent $1,600 on four Ielts tests during his eight years in Australia, stated, “There is a definite conflict of interest”. He added, “You have to again sit the test that universities have shares in.”

The Tests and the Testmakers

Most students opt for the Ielts test, which is recognized by 11,000 organizations worldwide. IDP Education, co-owner of Ielts and a top 100 ASX listed company, counts 19 Australian public universities among its shareholders. This includes Group of Eight members Monash University, the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, UNSW, and the University of Western Australia.

As universities are also tasked with regulating IDP, an education agent providing course selection assistance, visa, admission applications, and accommodation advice, this relationship has raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest.

Government Inquiry and Potential Reforms

A government inquiry into international education has suggested more oversight of universities’ responsibility over education agents. The committee chair, Labor MP Julian Hill, stated the question of regulating agents has become a matter of “how and when” not “if”.

While the inquiry is not specifically about IDP, its results could impact the way English language testing is currently conducted.

Impact on International Students

The costly and repeated tests are seen by some students as a burden, particularly those who have already invested significantly in their Australian education.

Yusef mentioned the plight of his friends who have taken the test multiple times, including some who have failed. One friend took the test 12 times. “After spending years of your life and a lot of money, they give you a degree and don’t accept it as proof that you can communicate in English language,” says Yusef.

Students from Iran, Pakistan, India, and China, already grappling with extended security clearances to obtain Australian visas, have also had to retake the test after their results expired.

Looking Forward

Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, cautioned against an extreme shift in the current English language arrangements, stating there was a “danger in the pendulum swinging too far”.

“We have to be careful and nuanced,” he warned. As international students await changes, the debate over the fairness and implications of the English language testing system continues to heat up.

Key Strategies for English Language Tests

Regardless of the test you’re preparing for—TOEFL, IELTS, or any other English language proficiency exam—certain techniques and strategies can significantly improve your performance. Here are some useful tips to help you score high in English language tests.

  1. Understand the Test Structure. Before you start your preparation, familiarize yourself with the test format. Understand the different sections—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—and the types of questions you’ll encounter. Having a clear idea of the test structure will help you develop an effective study plan.
  2. Practice Regularly. Regular practice is a crucial part of your test preparation. Try to use English in your daily life as much as possible. Read English books, listen to English podcasts, watch English movies, and converse in English. This will improve your proficiency and make you comfortable with the language.
  3. Take Mock Tests. Mock tests simulate the real test environment and are an excellent way to assess your performance. Regularly take full-length mock tests to familiarize yourself with the test experience. Analyze your performance in these tests to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Improve Your Vocabulary. A rich vocabulary can significantly boost your scores, especially in reading and writing sections. Make it a habit to learn new words every day. Use flashcards, mobile apps, or word lists to expand your vocabulary. Remember, it’s not just about memorizing words but understanding their usage in different contexts.
  5. Sharpen Your Listening Skills. In English proficiency tests, the listening section often presents challenges due to variations in accents and speed of speech. Improve your listening skills by exposing yourself to diverse English accents. You can use English language news channels, podcasts, or language learning apps for this purpose.
  6. Focus on Grammar. A strong grasp of English grammar is vital for performing well, particularly in the writing and speaking sections. Make sure you understand fundamental concepts like tenses, prepositions, conjunctions, and sentence structure.
  7. Develop Reading Strategies. The reading section requires quick comprehension of large amounts of text. Develop strategies like skimming and scanning to quickly identify relevant information. Practice reading English articles, newspapers, and books to enhance your speed and comprehension.
  8. Refine Your Writing Skills. For the writing section, practice is key. Write essays on various topics and get them reviewed by someone proficient in English. Focus on your grammar, vocabulary, and the coherence of your ideas. Also, understand the proper format for essays, letters, and reports as required by the test.
  9. Enhance Your Speaking Skills. For the speaking section, fluency and pronunciation matter. Speak English as much as you can. Record yourself speaking and listen to identify areas of improvement. You can also participate in language exchange groups or speak with a native speaker, if possible.
  10. Stay Calm and Confident. Finally, remember that confidence plays a significant role in your performance. Stay calm and composed during the test. If you have prepared well, trust your abilities and give it your best shot.

By following these tips and dedicating yourself to consistent practice, you’ll be well on your way to acing your English language test. Good luck!

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