Elizabeth Olayemi, a master’s student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), is in a spin. The 25-year-old lady is seeking admission into a top varsity in the United States for her doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programme.
But after she paid an application fee of N48,000 and met most admission requirements, she is left with a major hurdle — the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
Olayemi, who recently took the exam, told TheCable Lifestyle that raising money for the exercise was not a walk in the park. The student said she is afraid that she may have to take the IELTS again if she fails to get the score required by the institution.
“I paid N83,000 for the exam — which is more than the salary of average Nigerians. The cost is too much,” she said.
Olayemi’s experience is not different from that of many other Nigerian students seeking to study or work abroad.
Many foreign universities abroad demand the IELTS as a requirement for admitting international students — including those from Nigeria.
WHAT IS IELTS?
IELTS is an English language proficiency test for those seeking to study, migrate or work in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom — where English is considered to be the native language.
The test usually examines applicants’ ability to listen, read, write and speak in English and is graded on a scale of 1 to 9.
According to a statement on its website, “the IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.”
The validity of the exam result is usually two years. This means if one takes the exam in 2022, the result will become irrelevant by 2024.
SHOULD IELTS BE APPLICABLE TO NIGERIANS?
In recent times, campaigns for the removal of the IELTS requirement for Nigerians and several other African countries where English is the official language have intensified on social media.
Nigeria is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations — the 54 countries which are historically colonised by Britain. It is also one of the over 20 English-speaking countries in Africa.
The country was one of the 31 nations out of 112 across the world ranked either ‘Very High’ or ‘High’ on the 2021 Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index (EPI).
With 560 index points, the country was ranked 29th globally and 3rd in Africa just behind Kenya (587 points) and South Africa (606 points) respectively.
From the foregoing, many Nigerians argued that the country should be exempted from the list of nations taking the test.
Checks by TheCable Lifestyle showed that none of the English-speaking nations in Africa is among 31 countries whose citizens are exempted from taking the test by the UK home office.
Aside from Nigeria’s status as a predominantly English-speaking country, anti-IELTS campaigners also faulted the cost and the two-year validity period of the test result.
The average cost of taking the IELTS test in Nigeria is usually between N83,000 for academic and general tests and N89,500 for UK visas and immigration tests.
This is almost thrice the minimum wage of the average Nigerian worker that earns N30,000 monthly.
This is also a sharp contrast to the Diplôme d’études en langue française (DELF) — a French language proficiency certification test for foreign students and non-native French speakers.
DELF is said to cost about N16,000 and the result can be used for years. This means even though Nigeria is not a French-speaking country, its citizens pay lesser for DELF than what is being paid for IELTS.
“Something needs to be done urgently about IELTS,” says Olayemi. “The two-year validity for the result is too short. It should only be done once.”
In an interview with TheCable Lifestyle, Ebenezar Wikina, founder of Policy Shapers, an open-source policy platform leading the campaign against the IELTS, said Nigerians should be exempted from taking the test.
Using the hashtag #ReformIELTSPolicy, Wikina and his team are demanding a change in the status quo. A petition initiated by the group and addressed to Priti Patel, secretary of the UK home office, has garnered close to 60,000 signatures as of the time of this report.
The petition, titled ‘Stop asking Nigerians to write IELTS‘, targets 10,000 signatures.
“I believe that citizens from Nigeria should be exempted from proving their English Proficiency because the UK Home Office’s criteria for being listed as Majority English-speaking country is for 51% of your population to speak English,” he said.
“I believe that over 51% of our population speaks English and to corroborate this, the Education First English Proficiency Index 2021 lists Nigeria as one of the 30 most proficient English-speaking countries in the world with 560 Index points. The Education First English Index has been observed to have strong correlation with TOEFL and IELTS.
“Furthermore, many of our indigenous languages are dying as a result of this same English language. I am vaguely proficient in Khana and Ibibio (my native language) because all through my life I have transacted, schooled, prayed, and cried in this same English language.
“Why then should I be made to pay more than thrice my country’s minimum wage to write a test to prove that I am proficient in a language that I have been speaking all my life. The worst part is that the result of this test expires every two years.”
‘NIGERIANS SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO TAKE IELTS’ — OSINBAJO
Last year, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, backed the #ReformIELTSPolicy campaign during a chat with 2021 Mandela Washington Fellows and Mary Beth Leonard, US ambassador to Nigeria.
“I entirely agree that as an English-speaking country, we should be beneficiaries of some concession as opposed to being forced every two years to take the same test (IELTS) especially if one has passed it before,” he said.
“This is something that we should really work on. I will ask the minister of education as well as the minister of youths and sports exactly what is going on about this.”
The development has also continued to ignite heated reactions on social, particularly Twitter. Some users argued that if the scheme cannot be completely scrapped, the cost and validity of the result should be reviewed.
Here’s what some Nigerians had to say: