Why IELTS Should Be Scrapped for Nigerians, Other Anglophone Nationals

The past weeks have witnessed an intensified effort to stop foreign universities from requesting International English Language Testing System (IELTS) from Nigerians. A petition by a public policy organisation, Policy Shapers, has gathered over 75,000 signatures. Those reacting to the petition are asking the UK Home Office, which is believed to be primarily in charge of the test, to either reform it or stop it for Nigerians and other anglophone countries.

Nigerians seeking to study in foreign countries often find themselves in need of an IELTS test. For instance, in the United Kingdom, where most universities require IELTS, apart from their travel cost, the test application fee is another burden many international students bear when processing UK student visas. Some employment-based travels also require the test.

Some of the concerns raised include the cost of the test, which is almost three times the minimum wage in a country like Nigeria, and the validity of the exam result, which only lasts for two years. Many also question the need for a country like Nigeria, where English is lingua Franca and used as the language of instruction from primary to university level.

The average cost of IELTS test ranges from 83,000 Naira (200.5 USD) and 89,500 ($216.2 USD) in Nigeria. This is almost three times the national minimum wage which is 30,000 Naira monthly. There are 11 IELTS test centres across Nigeria run by the British Council, a 2020 ICIR report shows. Up to five test dates are scheduled monthly, with an average of 120 people writing the test at a centre on each day.

Given the frequency of the test dates and an average number of candidates, at least 5.15 billion Naira must have been paid by Nigerians to the Council in 2020. Furthermore, the test can only be taken in 12 centres in the country, requiring many candidates to travel a long distance to participate. The transport fare is extra financial burden applicants bear. 

Nigerians aren’t the only ones paying a high cost for IELTS; other Anglophone countries face the same challenge. In Uganda, where the test application fee is the highest in Africa, each applicant pays $317 to take the test. This is over 1,000% of the country’s minimum wage of $1.70. Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, and Namibia are some of the African countries that pay higher for IELTS than their minimum wage.

The shelf life of the test result is another concern. IELTS result becomes invalid after two years. This means those who do not use it within the timeframe will have to re-register the exam paying the high amount again if they don’t relocate within the given timeframe. The #ReformIELTS campaign on Twitter trended with people comparing the English proficiency test with its French Test (TOEFL), which cost much lower and last for life. The convener of the campaign, Ebenezar Wikinar, lamented the motive behind the short validity, stating “there’s no way that my English knowledge would expire.”

While some want the test to be reformed, others are questioning its necessity for Nigerians and other Anglophone nationals who communicate in English in their everyday lives. While Nigerians and nationals of other British colonies in Africa are required to take the IELTS, citizens of Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Nevis Dominica, Trinidad, and Tobago, and 10 other nations are exempted from taking the test. This further questions the organiser’s criteria for eligibility for an exemption.

In October, Policy Shapers wrote the Home Office for explanations on why none of the Anglophone countries was listed as its Majority English Speaking Countries. Three months after, the UK replied saying, “to be included on the Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) list, we must have evidence that most people in the country (more than half) speak English as a first language.”

However, most Nigerians are not satisfied with the answer, with many questioning the type of evidence needed by the UK to know that Nigerians deserve a spot on the list of countries exempted from the test.

There is enough evidence showing the proficiency of Nigerians in English. For years, the country has been ranking high on the EF English Proficiency Index, currently standing 29th out of 112 countries ranked globally and 3rd in Africa. In addition, out of more than 140 countries that sat for IELTS in 2018, Nigerians reportedly had the sixth-best performance.

Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Immigration Advice Service, a UK-based law firm that offers global immigration service and representation. By Mindmingles

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