English Language Testing: Choice is in your Hands

Message from the Council of International Students Australia (CISA)

Two weeks ago, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash announced the changes to English Language testing across visa programs.

Starting from November 2014, international students who intend to apply for temporary graduate, skilled, work and holiday, as well as former resident visas will be able to consider taking other English tests: Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test (TOEFL iBT) and the Pearson Test of English Academic.

The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) has actively called for this reform long before the announcement. This is a welcome news for international students.

Additional good news is that students won’t be forced to re-sit tests, since valid tests taken before November will be accepted by the Department for these visas when the change is implemented.

Formed in July 2010, CISA was inaugurated by 52 founding member organisations, consisting of prominent international student representative associations across campuses in Australia. CISA is recognised as the national peak student representative organisation for all international students in Australia, formed in response to the need for a unified voice.

Majority of the international students come from a non-English speaking background. Being part of the wider CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) community, English language proficiency is a key element affecting many other aspects of the overall experience of studying and living in Australia.

The Education First (EF)’s Proficiency Index has a list of countries ranked through English language proficiency and its impact in today’s globalised environment. It further highlights the importance of strong English language proficiencies in today’s world, especially in some of the developed nations, such as Australia.

Often seen as a ‘barrier’, the English testing system should be viewed as a method to assess the language proficiencies of individuals for a number of purposes, including employment and visa purposes.

Since 2010, CISA has advocated significantly for the betterment of international students. CISA worked closely with IELTS Australia on improving ways to enhance international student English proficiency, initiatives including the launch of the 1st IELTS Masterclass during the 1st CISA National Conference in 2011, held at Victoria University in Melbourne. This initiative has since being replicated worldwide.

In addition to that, ETS Global, provider of the internet-based TOEFL test (TOEFL iBT) has always been a major sponsor of CISA National Conference, where its Associate Director, Helen Cook has played a major role in chairing and conducting panel discussions. Helen has helped built key insights amongst students of language proficiency, and its connection to the journey from the home country to Australia, for study and then work.

We intend to establish a relationship with Pearson in the near future to ensure that similar initiatives can be implemented to benefit those of you who will be looking at this as a test option.

Today, CISA speaks for approximately 450,000 international students in Australia. We sit on a number of government taskforces and stakeholder consultative committees, including the Education Visa Consultative Committee (EVCC) alongside other peak bodies. This level of participation ensures that international student voice and perspective is being heard through these platforms and that policies are being made for the benefits of all.

CISA hears the challenges and issues faced by you through your community leaders and representatives. We understand the hardships, the financial and mental distress that can accompany the experience of being an international student in Australia – having to undertake repetitive tests and preparation classes for IELTS examinations were often an example that we heard.

Last year, CISA took an important step of joining many other stakeholders in calling for this issue to be addressed. We believe that this change in the system was much needed.

The recognition of other testing systems by the Department of Immigration will create a beacon of hope for many. Our advocacy for more choices and competition had at its heart the students’ need to have options available when it comes to choosing an English language test.

More information: http://cisa.edu.au/