As many aspiring international students already know, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) – the organization in charge of regulating student visas in the United Kingdom – requires that applicants demonstrate their proficiency in the English language before granting students permission to live and study in that country. To do this, the UKBA has traditionally turned to a number of English language tests to provide applicants with what it calls “Secure English Language Testing.” Unfortunately, as we first reported in March, two of the biggest players in English language testing, the TOEFL and the TOEIC, were not as “secure” as many had believed. As an undercover investigation conducted by the BBC news program Panorama revealed that month, systemic problems affected the administration of exams offered at certified Educational Testing Service (ETS) exam locations called the validity of results from both exams into questions. These problems, which included (but were not limited to) substitute test takers and corrupt proctors, led the UKBA to review its regulations and, in the meantime, suspend all pending Tier 4 student visa applicants that used an UK-based, ETS-delivered exam to demonstrate their English proficiency.
Now, two months later, the UKBA has announced that, effective April 5th, it will not be extending its license agreement with ETS. Though ETS exams – including the TOEFL and the TOEIC – can still be used in order to prove English proficiency to UK universities, neither exam will satisfy the UKBA’s language proficiency requirement. As the ETS itself said in a statement released on its website, “TOEIC and TOEFL testing will no longer be offered for U.K. visa-granting purposes.” As these exams are two of the most popular in use around the world, such a change has major implications for the English language testing industry far beyond the United Kingdom. Students interested in applying to schools in both the US and UK with one set of test results, for example, will have to turn to exams – such as the IELTS – which are accepted by both countries. Though the story is still developing, this news is bound to affect the testing decisions of thousands of would-be international students.