College of Ontario voiced concerns about the validity of the results of a popular international standard language test submitted by students from India after the probe found "discrepancies" in language competence.
Niagara College contacted more than 400 students enrolled in their January 2019 programs who took IELTS tests in places in India, telling them they had to pass a second English test or risk losing their offer for reception.
The International English Testing System (IELTS) is accepted by most Canadian academic institutions and is one of the two basic English tests used by Immigration Canada as an independent proof of the candidate's linguistic proficiency for immigration or citizenship.
Steve Hudson, vice president of academia and training colleges in Niagara, said the school began an investigation this fall as the number of first international students noted by the faculty as "at risk from an academic point of view" rose to 300 from an average 150 in previous years.
These students were forced to make their own test language, and the college found that 200 of this group had failed to study in their academic programs because their English language was not at the required level. A further investigation found that 80% of them are from India and have taken their IELTS tests in locations managed by Australian-based IDP Education.
The Niagara College said officials had warned IDP Education with its findings shortly after the autumn semester and notified immigration authorities last week.
"Based on our analysis, we felt that we must be absolutely sure that candidates for our 2019 winter term had a level of English proficiency that would allow them to succeed, and we wanted to do that before investing considerable time and money travel here to learn, "Hudson says in a Star statement.
The IELTS Test, which is jointly owned by IDP Education, British Council and Cambridge Assessment English, is a three-hour exam that assesses the listener's ability to listen, read, write, and speak on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 9 indicates that "expert user" with full command of the language. But it is up to individual organizations to determine a pass.
More than three million IELTS tests have been taken over the past year by people around the world, according to IDP Education.
"The test is recognized as fair for all participants in the trials, regardless of nationality, cultural heritage, gender or special needs," said Warwick Freeland, Managing Director of IELTS / IDP Education, in an e-mail statement from Melbourne.
"IELTS is the leading test for English for foreign students in Canada," he said, adding that "the results of all IELTS testing centers, including all centers located in India, continue to be accepted at Niagara College."
In a follow-up email to Star on Saturday, IDP Education raised the question of the value of the internal test that Niagara College gave to Indian foreign students in the autumn of the cohort, saying college "using a low stack" which is "not approved by the Canadian educational institutions or the government to test their English skills. "
Newark College, Hudson, said the IELTS language test results presented by students from India for the first time this fall were certified by IELTS and the school treats "discrepancies" in their results and language competence as a one-time anomaly. "We continue to believe that IELTS is a good test for assessing English competence," he told The Star.
"We are open to dialogue with internally displaced people and we have reported our interest in understanding the larger number of students who are found to be at risk of failure," Hudson said in a subsequent email on Saturday. "Academic quality and student success have always been and will remain at the heart of decision-making at Niagara College."
A spokesman for the immigration department said employees are looking for the issue.
There have been previous cases of vulnerability to the administration of language tests around the world:
- A Chinese student from the University of Pennsylvania found herself guilty this year after paying someone to take the TOEFL English language exam for her.
- In 2016, several people in the UK were convicted of immigration fraud, which paid fake "sitters" to take TOEIC language exams for non-EU students.
- In Australia an officer at the English language center of Kurtin University was found guilty in 2011 of accepting bribes and manipulating IELTS results through the Center's computer system. The case triggered an investigation by the Commission on Corruption and Crime in Western Australia.
Freeland, who said IDP Education's partners with a number of organizations that run IELTS in 140 countries, maintain that "IELTS is a sure and important indicator of the candidate's capabilities."
"All test centers are being monitored strictly to ensure that they work to the highest standards," he said.
The test, which costs about $ 215 in India, has two versions, one for academic purposes at a higher level, and one general version that measures a person's ability to function in English.
Niagara College said the school would be responsible for covering the cost of re-testing for 428 students in India and the tests should be completed by Monday.
Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Language Canada, an association that represents more than 200 providers of accredited English and French language programs across the country, said that maintaining the integrity of language tests is important for the international education sector.
"Language testing is an instrument that tells everyone – students, institutions, immigration Canada and employers – confident that this person is ready to perform language," he said in an interview. "You can not manage international education without proper and qualitative tests, so it depends on that.
According to Peralta, test operators are constantly updating their security measures and applying rigorous rules at local testing centers, including the requirement to identify photos and ban phones.
When told about the situation at Niagara College, Peralta said: "I am concerned that this affects one of our good members – Niagara College, and I am also concerned about students who have invested heavily in learning. displaced persons, not knowing what happened.
According to Canada's Canadian International Education Bureau, there were 494,525 foreign students at all levels of education in 2017, which is 17% more than in the previous year. About 123,940, or 25% of these students come from India, which is the second largest contingent behind China.
At Niagara College, which has campuses in Weld and Niagara on the Lake, 2914 out of 4683 foreign students come from India. Student fees for foreign students amount to $ 13,500, more than the triple amount their Canadian peers pay.
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Hudson said the school had received about 8,200 international applications for the winter of 2019, of which 4,800 were from India, where the school recruited staff through international education fairs. The College provided 1300 assumptions to Indian candidates; 428 of these students are asked to repeat the IELTS test or to take the alternative Pearson Test in English.
"We realize 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 related to traveling to Niagara College to study, they have the opportunity to be successful in learning, "Hudson said.
"We believe that the difficulties they would experience if they were traveling here and could not succeed in their training program would be much more significant. We will continue to engage with IDP candidates and candidates during this process. "
Hudson said that those students who are already in college have been redirected to language programs or offered additional linguistic and academic support.
Nikolay Keun is Toronto's reporter on immigration. Follow it on Twitter: @nkeung