Nigerians are tired of writing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). And the frustration with the system has fueled the launch of a campaign to address certain issues they have with it. In the past few weeks, thousands of people have signed the #ReformIELTS petition.
IELTS was established in 1989 to assess the English language competence of non-native speakers with standardised tests. It’s jointly run by the British Council, University of Cambridge English Language Assessment and the International Development Programme (IDP), Australia.
IELTS results are globally recognised by over 10,000 organisations including educational institutions, governments, and employers. But Nigerians are questioning the necessity of the test and are calling for it to be reformed or scrapped.
The founder of Policy Shapers, Ebenezar Wikinar, is leading the reform campaign alongside other young Nigerians. Let’s look at some of the arguments presented.
1. High application fees
Registration fees for IELTS range from ₦83,000 (US$200.5) to ₦89,500 (US$216.2) in Nigeria — almost three times the country’s monthly minimum wage of ₦30,000.
Young Nigerians who want to japa to study in foreign institutions are often required to present IELTS results. The fees required to fulfill this requirement represent an additional financial burden many prospective international students bear when pursuing their student visas.
There are 11 IELTS test centre locations managed by the British Council in Nigeria, a 2020 ICIR report shows. Up to five test dates are observed monthly, and an average of 120 people write the test at a centre each day. With such a high frequency and the number of candidates, it was estimated that the Council must have made at least ₦5.15 billion from Nigerians in 2020.
This does not include the fees charged for remarking and certificate authentication which is what happens when a candidate is not satisfied with their result. Such a candidate may apply for the remarking of the paper for a fee of ₦15,000. The fee is refundable if the score increases upon review.
There are also extra costs like transport fare to exam centres and amounts paid to coaching centres for training. These centres charge between N20,000 to N40,000 per month.
2. Short shelf life
An IELTS test result becomes invalid after two years. That’s a shorter shelf life than agege bread. If you don’t migrate within the two-year timeframe, you have to re-apply for the exam. That means you also have to pay all the fees again.
It’s surprising that the organisers set such a short validity for a language proficiency result when people hardly lose their ability to speak a language within such a short period.
Wikina argues, “There’s no way that my English knowledge would expire.”
3. IELTS is absolutely unnecessary
While there are genuine demands for the reformation of IELTS, many people want it completely scrapped because it’s unnecessary. Nigerians seeking further education abroad have been taught in the English language their entire lives. This makes testing for their capacity to speak a language baked into their consciousness kind of ridiculous.
The UK Home Office granted an exemption to 18 countries from writing the IELTS. That exemption list includes Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica.
In October 2021, Policy Shapers wrote the UK Home Office for explanations on why no Anglophone country was on its Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) list. The UK replied that it must first have evidence that more than half of the people in the country speak English as a first language.
This explanation is considered a lazy one by campaigners because there’s enough evidence demonstrating the English proficiency of Nigerians.
Nigeria has maintained a high spot in the EF English Proficiency Index, currently ranked 29th out of 112 countries globally and 3rd in Africa.
Also, in 2018, Nigerians had the sixth-best performance out of over 140 countries that took IELTS.
What other evidence does the Home Office need to know that Nigerians deserve a place on its IELTS exemption list?
4. Nigerians deserve better treatment
Post-Brexit, the UK has been reviewing its immigration policy to attract more international talent. This includes the introduction of the Graduate Visa route which grants two years extended stay for students after their master’s degree in a UK school and three years for doctoral graduates.
Nigeria is one of the UK’s biggest markets for international students and deserves its listening ears regarding the IELTS exemption.
If the UK is serious in its bid to attract more Nigerian students and respect the economic gains it enjoys from Nigerian visa applicants, it should provide a better explanation as to why the country isn’t on its exemption list, the high registration fees for the test, and the short validity.
Reforming the IELTS will go a long way in restoring the Nigerian students’ confidence in the UK student visa application process, which will help it achieve its post-Brexit immigration policy.
In other words, the UK has more to gain in this whole call for reform.
Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Immigration Advice Service, a leading UK-based law firm offering global immigration services and representation.