Use of the IELTS General Training module in technical and vocational tertiary institutions: A case study from Aotearoa New Zealand


Hilary Smith

Stephen Haslett

Date Published:

27th April 2008

This project investigates the use of the IELTS General Training module in the technical and vocational sector, exploring the programs for which it is used, the extent to which it predicts success in the programs and perceptions of the Test.

Technical and vocational courses form a rapidly growing part of the tertiary environment in Aotearoa New Zealand. This area presents opportunities for tertiary education providers focusing on international students who do not have the academic ability for, or interest in, degree-level study, or who are studying niche subjects. One of the intended purposes of the General Training module of IELTS is as a test for students entering such non-degree level education programs.

This project explored the following aspects of the use of the General Training module in the technical and vocational sector: the programs for which it is used, the extent to which it predicts success in the programs, other language-related factors involved in success, and student and staff perceptions of the Test. The project was a case study of all available institutions offering technical and vocational courses in one city. Eight institutions were investigated, with subject areas as varied as engineering, performance arts and aviation. The institutions ranged from large public providers with over

30,000 students (1300 international students) to small private providers with fewer than 20 students (all international). In-depth interviews were also carried out with 16 staff and 14 students.

The study found that the General Training module was not well-known by students or staff in technical and vocational tertiary institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand, and few people had personal knowledge or experience of the Test. This was influenced by: the sector being extremely fluid, affecting institutional knowledge; student transfers from degrees to vocational programs; confusion about student visa requirements; institutions not insisting on English language requirements; and institutions setting their own tests. In addition, some institutions had changed their entry requirements from the General Training to the Academic module.

The main recommendation from the study is that IELTS should work on raising awareness about the General Training module as an option for technical and vocational program entry requirements among students, tertiary providers and industry training organisations. The constant changes in the sector mean that this awareness raising needs to be an ongoing task.

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