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'IELTS still required for UK study'

August 17, 2009 10:42 IST

Contrary to the popular belief in northern India that the IELTS is no more required for the United Kingdom, British Council IELTS chief in India, Kevin McLaven, has clarified that despite recent immigration rules changes, there has been 'No Change' regarding the English language requirement for that country.

In an interview with RMS Atwal, he maintained that the International English Language Testing System is still a true test of a student's English proficiency. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Students in the Punjab region are confused about the IELTS requirement for the UK. Please clarify.
There has been no change regarding the English language requirements to study in the UK despite the fact that the UK recently introduced new immigration rules for foreign students under Tier 4 of the Points Based System. The majority of educational institutions still require international students to prove their English language ability and the IELTS is still the preferred test accepted by almost all higher education institutions in the UK.

Indian students looking to enter the UK with a Tier 4 student visa should first check with their chosen university or college what minimum English language ability is required for admission. If the university or college has asked for proof of English language as part of their admission requirements, the applicant will need to provide the same documentary evidence to the visa officer when they lodge their visa application.

Don't you think the IELTS is slowly losing its credibility in view of reports of fraudulent documentation?
All IELTS test centres follow a detailed Code of Practice that ensures the highest standards of security throughout the testing process. Candidates provide their passport as evidence of identity when they register and also on the day of the test they have to carry their passports. In addition, IELTS test centre administrators are extensively trained to be able to detect imposters and fraudulent documents.

IELTS is a high-stakes test and as a result there will sadly always be some people who will try and obtain a band score through illicit means. The fact that the test partners are successful in catching these people provides reassurance that we have the necessary security measures in place. For 20 years the IELTS has been tried and tested.

How would you compare the IELTS with the TOEFL in view of its similarity and their requirements by embassies/ High Commissions?
The majority of candidates prefer IELTS because it is a pen-and-paper-based test and they are able to interact in person for their speaking module. With TOEFL they have to give the test online and also test their oral proficiency by speaking to a computer. IELTS has global recognition (including over 2,000 US universities and professional bodies) whereas TOEFL's popularity is predominantly in the US.

Many institutions and recognising authorities prefer IELTS and feel that the test gives a more accurate indication of a candidate's English language proficiency. Significantly, more Indians take IELTS than TOEFL.

What can be done about the mushrooming growth of IELTS training institutes and quality standards?
The IELTS partners are not responsible for controlling the quality standards of training institutes. Having said that, there are many training institutes in India doing an excellent job in preparing candidates for the test. We at the British Council run a number of programmes to further develop the knowledge and training skills of IELTS trainers so that they can give the best possible support to their students. Where there are institutes not doing such a good job, candidates will get to hear of it and avoid using them.

Today, we see students with even 5.5 bands migrating to foreign countries. How can they meet the demands of foreign universities/colleges?
The IELTS score requirement is established by the universities or colleges, not the IELTS partners. Some accept slightly lower band scores and then provide English language training for the students before they start their formal studies abroad.

Students still prefer IDP to British Council when it comes to registering for exams?  Do you agree? 
Whilst there may still be a small number of candidates who believe there is a difference between the tests offered by the British Council and IDP. Given the respective share of candidates taking the test with the two organisations, we can see that the vast majority understand that there is a single test that is administered and marked according to a single set of global standards.

Is British Council switching to online exams in the near future?
Across the globe, more and more exams are becoming available either online or as computer-based tests. Although work continues on the development of a computer-based IELTS test, the pen and paper version will continue because for many candidates it remains their preferred way of taking a test.

Any words of advice for students?
Students applying for further studies in an English speaking country need to be careful. Firstly, there are no short-cuts. If they don't have the required English language ability they will not be successful in their objectives.  Secondly, as shown by the recent increase in the number of UK visa application rejections, students must thoroughly check the educational qualification requirements listed by the college or university.

As far as English language requirement to study in the UK is concerned, there is no change with the introduction of the new points based system. The documents they send to the UK university for admission will also be seen by the visa officer and if the visa office isn't convinced with the documents the case may get rejected.

(RMS Atwal can be reached at

RMS Atwal