Time for a home-grown English language test, Indian agents say

Outflow of cash prompts calls for change in nation with world’s second-biggest English-speaking population

August 4, 2021
Farmer splits open a watermelon in a fruit market as a metaphor for time for a home-grown English language test, Indian agents
Source: Getty

Indian education agents are lobbying for the creation of home-grown language tests to facilitate international study amid frustration that a country with more English speakers than most is lavishing millions on foreign exams.

The agents said the time had come for India to develop its own version of assessments like the UK-developed International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the US-spawned Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl).

Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of the Global Reach consultancy, said 1.5 million would-be students and migrants in his country had taken such tests in 2019. “An Indian test…can save unnecessary flow of [foreign exchange],” said Mr Singh, who is president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI).

“It is just a matter of time before the Indian government, which has been hesitant in allowing [international] universities [to] run campuses in India and has had restrictions on repatriation of funds from them, will encourage such a development.”

Language tests hit the headlines in India after IDP bought the sole rights to deliver IELTS there. Agents raised concerns that this could confer a competitive advantage on the company, which also has a student referral arm.

IDP says it enforces strict “firewalls” between its IELTS business and its placement teams. But with students often seeking agents at the same time as they book English tests, many may instinctively choose the same providers for both.

Recent developments in Australia make it feasible for Indian students to use a home-grown test. Until 2014, Australian immigration authorities accepted only IELTS for visa application purposes. The list has since grown to include Toefl and tests owned by Pearson, Cambridge Assessment English and Box Hill Institute.

But such provisions are irrelevant to many international students since the advent of streamlined visa processing, which largely took language assessment out of immigration authorities’ hands. That task has been left to universities, which can apply whatever tests they choose.

Rahul Gandhi, managing director of Take Off Educational Consultants and a former AAERI president, said any test could work as long as it satisfied educational providers that students had the requisite level of English. He said India had the infrastructure and expertise to develop a suitable test, having rolled out a suite of home-grown exams in recent years.

The National Testing Agency, established by Narendra Modi’s administration, operates more than a dozen tests for countrywide admission into engineering, business, agricultural, teaching, medical and pharmacy degrees as well as for specific universities and for junior academic positions.

Mr Gandhi said some of these tests attracted millions of candidates a year for “competence-based” assessments of their mathematical and analytical English skills. He said it was time for someone to take the lead in championing a dedicated English test. “It could be anyone – any of the universities or institutes in India.”

Several years ago, universities’ practice of waiving their normal language requirements – instead accepting “medium of instruction” letters testifying that applicants had been taught in English at school – earned a sceptical response from Australia’s higher education regulator.

Mr Gandhi said a standardised test would be a “far better barometer”. He said a long-standing problem in India was that tests had been administered by many different boards. “It is very difficult to put everyone at the [same] bar without a common exam amongst all of them.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Had IDP not bought the sole rights to deliver the IELTS test in India, I doubt, this notion of home-gown English language test would have ever cropped up.

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