An impact study into the use of IELTS by professional associations in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, 2014 to 2015


Glenys Merrifield

Date Published:

1st March 2016

Professional associations today are dealing with increasing populations and vastly increased mobility of professional migrants and refugees, many in the health sector. English language testing is, therefore, a crucial factor in ensuring protection of the public, with potentially dire consequences if errors are made. This study focuses on the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and examines changes in attitudes and processes in English language testing, including the use of IELTS and alternative testing systems, eight to nine years on from previous studies.

Professional associations have been setting minimum standards of English language for overseas trained professionals in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for almost a decade. Over this time, professionals have become increasingly mobile, and pressure has grown particularly on the health care professions to ensure protection of the public by regulating the English language skills of overseas trained professionals.

This study examines the use of IELTS by professional organisations, attitudes to the test, competitors in the field, stakeholder support required and risks to IELTS almost a decade on from previous studies.

Many organisations continue to utilise IELTS as their sole acceptable language testing system, or as one of a limited number of tests. IELTS is considered to be reliable, secure and a good test of communicative skills, with efficient score verification processes. There has been increased cooperation between similar organisations, both nationally and internationally, with medical regulators, in particular, sharing research into English language testing, and setting common standards and regularly reviewing them. Regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom and Australia have followed government initiatives to consider broadening the suite of approved tests, which may affect IELTS’ market share.

Research on concordance of IELTS scores with other global tests, such as TOEFL iBT, Cambridge English Advanced and the Pearson Test of English, determined that matching scores of dissimilar tests is complex, and the concordance tables currently published on the websites of other test providers lack consistency. It is recommended that the IELTS partners address this for the guidance of stakeholders.

The possibility was raised that the integrity of IELTS scores may be compromised by the introduction of non-standard use of IELTS test scores. A clear policy on the use of IELTS scores should be developed, regular contact between the IELTS partners and stakeholders should be maintained, and advice to stakeholders on standard-setting is critical.