Attitudes of tertiary key decision-makers towards English language tests in Aotearoa, New Zealand: Report on the results of a national provider survey


Hilary Smith

Stephen Haslett

Date Published:

27th April 2007

This study surveys all tertiary institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand to understand the attitudes of decision-makers towards the English language tests used as entry to their programs.

A survey of all public and private tertiary institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand was conducted to investigate the attitudes of tertiary decision-makers towards English language tests being used as entry to their programs. Results showed that the extensive and rapid changes in the tertiary environment in Aotearoa New Zealand means that it is now characterised by diversity, resulting in a wide variety of types of English language requirements for different courses. Many tertiary institutions are actively recruiting international students, and are moving away from rigid gate-keeping English language policies to more flexible ‘pathways’ to proficiency. There is an increased interest in the use of a range of English language assessment methods to give a fuller picture of students’ abilities. IELTS is the most frequently used test, and the IELTS ‘brand’ is well-known, but its use in high-stakes situations means that it has taken on a symbolic value beyond its function as an indicator of language proficiency.

Decision-making on English language thresholds is made in a wide variety of ways and at a wide variety of institutional levels. A number of decision-makers at tertiary institutions have said they would appreciate more information about test results from test providers. There is potential for greater liaison on language proficiency issues between course providers and external industry standard-setting bodies.

Note: Aotearoa New Zealand is the bilingual name for New Zealand. It is becoming more frequently used, particularly in contexts which emphasise the inclusiveness of all New Zealanders. The Maori name ‘Aotearoa’ is translated as ‘Land of the long white cloud’.