21 Aug 2017

English test change may not stop cheating - tertiary industry

6:51 am on 21 August 2017

Tougher English-language testing rules for foreign students will not stop some education providers from rorting the system, a group representing private tertiary institutions has warned.

A young man in a classroom, writing, in a file photo to illustrate foreign students.

Photo: 123RF

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) now requires all polytechnics and private institutions to get its approval if they want to run their own English testing for students from 'low-risk' countries.

Previously, institutions with the authority's highest quality rating - Category 1 - did not require NZQA approval.

Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand chairperson Christine Clark said its members would prefer that no institutions offered their own English tests.

"There is an opportunity to rort the system," she said.

"I've heard of some providers who say that the students are failing their own tests, it's very rigorous, and the student goes down the road to a competitor and passes, and you have to wonder how."

A document provided under the Official Information Act showed Immigration New Zealand had similar concerns earlier this year, and also warned that problems might be emerging with New Zealand's biggest market for enrolments, China.

It showed Immigration New Zealand agreed with the change, but had reservations.

"While we support this proposal, we note that there's a conflict of interest in education providers' completing English proficiency testing for fee-paying international students. There are strong incentives to pass these applicants.

"We are not wholly comfortable with internal testing, regardless of whether NZQA has approved the test or not," it said.

However, sector relationship manager Celia Coombes said Immigration New Zealand was satisfied NZQA would manage any risks and that education providers' English testing would be monitored to a high level.

The changes introduced on Friday also include a new layer of English testing for students from 'high-risk' countries where fewer than 80 percent of study visa applications have been approved.

Students from such countries need an independent English test before they enrol in a course, but now also require a second test - requiring a higher English proficiency - if they want to advance to a higher level of study.

Immigration New Zealand also noted in its document that students who failed the tests could pose an immigration risk because they would have limited options for further visas, and said agencies would need to have confidence in New Zealand's English-language testing centres including their ownership and key staff.

It also wanted to reconsider how countries were categorised as high or low risk for study visa fraud.

The agency was "receiving anecdotes and hearing murmurings" about English language problems with Chinese students, who were regarded as a low-risk nationality, the document showed, and some countries' risk ratings might change if study visa approval rates did not include English language or primary and secondary school students.

"If these students have skewed the data, there might be English language issues with people from these countries who are studying other [higher risk] courses. We propose to meet and refine the data set used to calculate the decline rates," the report said.

NZQA staff also warned against the proposal earlier in the year.

The authority's deputy chief executive for quality assurance, Grant Klinkum, said the changes were appropriate for the current situation within the sector.

"If NZQA identifies any major concerns or evidence of significant issues in the sector in the future, we will move quickly to address these," Dr Klinkum said.

He said 11 Category 1 providers already had approval to deliver internal English language tests and any others had until 18 September to apply.

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