It only takes a brief turn of a dial, change of the channels, surf of the net, or a perusal of the local library to see the impact of the English Language on the rest of the world. What Crystal (2003) describes as a ‘World Language’, English has within recent years embarked on a journey from being a Lingua Franca to becoming a truly global language. As a result, English is now the medium or choice for many organizations and occupations, and if you were to study in an international university, there is a high possibility that you would be instructed in English. To maintain standards and ensure that non-native students are capable of competing in tertiary education, there are now examining bodies such as IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT, and GRE that offer tests to measure a speaker’s competency in the four skills. However, it is up to the university to decide wherever they use one of these tests. It is evident that international universities (located in countries where English is not the mother tongue) should use one of the aforementioned tests, as it would be beneficial for students that were unable to pass the test, students that were able to pass the test, and it would also benefit the lecturers that work at these universities.
For a non-native student, entering tertiary level academia for the first time can be a challenging prospect, and even more so if the university uses English as the medium for instruction. If the student is proficient in English the burden is somewhat lightened. But, all too often, when universities are allowed to stipulate their own admission requirements, students who are not adequately proficient are faced with the daunting challenges that arise. When considering students who fit this demographic, an important question has to be raised: How can these students learn the content when they do not fully understand the language that it is being
delivered in? Some may argue that proficiency will be gained as the students progress towards completion of their degree, but one only has to point out that the goals of a university are not the same as those of a language school teaching ESL. Furthermore, it is unfair to the student who gets a bad GPA, or does not graduate, just because they were restricted from the content.
Not only are lax admission standards detrimental to students with inadequate proficiency, but they also affect the other end of the spectrum and the proficient students need to be considered. University life should provide you with more than just the knowledge from lecturers and textbooks. There should also be knowledge shared and gained amongst students, as they strive to push one another to their creative and intellectual limits. This, however, is not possible when there is difficulty in communicating due to no mutually intelligible language. There are still a great deal of lessons that can be learned from situations when this is the case, such as patience and cultural differences, but they do not outweigh the damage that is done to the proficient students who are unable to tap into the fellow students’ knowledge. Also, when considering the proficient student, one needs to take into account the standard of tertiary education that is being taught.
Having considered the students it is now necessary to look at how a lack of a standard English proficiency test can be problematic for the lecturer. By having a variety of levels within the classroom, the lecturer is faced with a quandary. Does the lecturer teach the standard of tertiary education that would be expected of a university where the majority of the students speak the same language, or does the lecturer lower the standards to accommodate the less able students? Depending on the course being studied, this may cause some serious problems. For example, if the field is English, should the lecturer teach ESL content to please those that are not proficient, or teach at a level and to a standard that is more in line with tertiary education to appease those that are proficient? It may be assumed that the lecturer would not lower the standards due to professional reasons. However, it is not that simple and the wishes of the administration must be taken into account. For example, if the majority of the students are not proficient and the course content is unattainable for this reason, the lecturer may water the content down somewhat to assure that students do not fail and the lecturer remains in employment. Nevertheless, one must not lose sight of what a university’s aim is, and education should not be forsaken simply for the exchange of bits of paper.
Tests such as IELTS and TOEFL were designed for a specific reason and throughout the world they are used as the benchmark for international students wishing to apply and study at quality universities. By allowing universities to set their own, and all too often, relaxed admission requirements in regard to English proficiency, harm is caused to the students, whether they are proficient or not, and it also causes difficulties for lecturers who have to somehow try to cater for students with mixed abilities. In conclusion, the following is a paraphrased quote from a professor at The International Institute of Studies and it incorporates the three groups that are affected by not having university implementing internationally recognized test: “If you want to learn English here [at the university]you are wasting your time. Go to a language school, it’s cheaper. Go to Australia and get a job at McDonalds for a year.” (Prof. Dr. Frank Gold).
Crystal, David. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.