Bid to end ‘discriminatory’ English test starts to pay off

A campaign aimed at persuading foreign universities to end their demand that Nigerian students and others from English-speaking African countries sit English proficiency tests as part of admission requirements has started to pay off.

“At the last count, more than 14 universities in Canada, the United States and Australia have removed the discriminatory English proficiency test barrier for Nigerians and English-speaking Africans,” Ebenezar Wikina, the founder of Policy Shapers, a Nigerian youth-led advocacy platform that started the campaign, told University World News.

The campaign, dubbed #ReformIELTS, was born out of the anger and frustration experienced by many Nigerian students whose admissions to foreign universities were forfeited after they were unable to afford the costs of English proficiency tests.

The campaign is tagged #ReformIELTS because the International English Language Testing System or IELTS is said to be the most widely applicable English test for students seeking admission to universities in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

However, the campaign also targets foreign universities that require other tests such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Pearson Test of English (PTE) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Discriminatory practice

Policy Shapers launched the #ReformIELTS campaign in October 2021 against what it labelled the “discriminatory practice” of foreign universities that demand English proficiency proof from Nigerians.

For Wikina, a 2021 Mandela Washington Fellow, and other Nigerians who have joined the campaign, the argument is that, as a former colony of England, Nigeria’s lingua franca is English. It is the language of instruction from primary to tertiary levels of education in Nigeria.

“I applied for a fellowship that promotes social and economic equity at the London School of Economics [LSE] in 2021 and, despite having an excellent resume and over 12 years of experience working locally and internationally, I was still asked to submit an IELTS or TOEFL result just because I am from Nigeria,” said Wikina.

“I took it up with the LSE and had to forfeit the application … They cannot claim to be fighting for social equity but ask me to pay about US$200 (then NGN83,000) to take an English proficiency exam, whereas, someone from Jamaica, Guyana, Malta or New Zealand applying for the same programme wouldn’t have to take the test, even if they had lesser experience or qualifications than I do. It just doesn’t make any sense!”

In the aftermath of that experience, Policy Shapers launched a petition titled ‘Stop asking Nigerians to take IELTS’ on, a global non-profit petition website headquartered in California, USA.

As of 12 November, about 80,000 people had signed the petition.

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