We, the undersigned students of Åbo Akademi University and the Social Exclusion Master’s Program, write to renew the call to reform the university’s English language entrance policy for master’s degree program, MDP, applicants. In 2021, students from the Race, Racism and Antiracism course of the Social Exclusion MA program first opened this discussion, citing the negatively discriminatory effects of current testing policies against English speaking members of formerly colonized nations and the need to challenge the coloniality of language and knowledge-producing institutions in Finland.
The university accepts several tests as evidence of language proficiency. Accepted testing formats, however, have been found to be dubious indicators of actual language proficiency, and additionally do not present a single, equitable standard for all applicants across the provided options. They are equally if not more indicative of factors from financial status and, significantly, anxiety during testing procedures, as well as applicants having access to testing at all. Standards of acceptability vary from test to test, but so do procedures and difficulty, depending on familiarity with specific dialects according to the test and its country of origin, and individual testing protocols over general proficiency. Being solely reliant on these testing procedures, therefore, discriminates against people who share these conditions while those who are not subject to them experience no similar risk.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted issues of access to testing as additional barriers for prospective international students. Applicants from some countries had testing options limited or else completely removed. This means that even while general applications were being accepted for ÅAU, the English testing policy alone was and remains capable of obstructing otherwise qualified applicants from applying on academic merit alone.
In addition to the problems with the faults of proficiency testing in practice, the expiration of test results means that those who have already overcome the individual burdens they pose must often do so again. We question the value of proficiency proven by a test if it is expected to be invalid after two years. Individuals who have already proven their capability in English according to the demands of accepted tests should not be made to do so again, as they may already be in professional or academic positions which confirm their capability because of those results. Having an expiry date for language proficiency cannot be limited only to some students. It has to be applied to all students at ÅA and not just those studying in English, but also those studying in other languages including Swedish and Finnish.
The university is now in the process of producing a new Equality and Diversity Plan, reaffirming its commitment to provide an environment, “that is accessible to everyone and without discrimination, racism, and sexism where staff and students with a variety of backgrounds and tasks are treated equally and can safely participate in all activities” (ÅAU Gender Equality, Equal Treatment and Accessibility as an Educational Institution 2022-2024). We believe that these commitments should be made to those in the earliest stages of contact with the university and its institutions, and we present arguments against the current policy and for the consideration of alternatives already being explored within the university today.
As with the previous year’s call, we suggest the university expands current exceptions to the English Language testing requirement for MDP applicants to include countries that were formerly colonies, and where English is a commonly spoken language. To ensure that academic standards are met, we advocate for an interview alternative to also be provided, such as those employed by the MDP in Social Exclusion, and MA/MTh and the MDP in Teaching and Learning to applicants who meet other requirements. Interview options allow those who know best about the individual programs being applied to, directly gauge applicants’ suitability and capacity to perform within their academic settings. A movement toward this option would combat the problems exemplified within existing testing procedures and help Åbo Akademi University in combating discrimination and inequality within Finnish academia.
Adelina Appel, Godfred Gyimah, Maryam Lashgarian, Oghenetega Oke, and Sandis Sitton
For Reference and Further Information:
Having an expiry date for language proficiency cannot be limited only to some students. It has to be applied to all students at ÅA and not just those studying in English but also those studying in other languages including Swedish and Finnish. bo Akademi University: English Language Requirements. Available from: https://www.abo.fi/en/study/apply/language-requirements/
Åbo Akademi University’s Plan for Gender Equality, Equal Treatment and Accessibility as an Employer 2022-2024 (proposal). Available from: https://abofi.sharepoint.com/sites/intra-en-about-us/SitePages/Gender-Equality-Plan-and-Plan-for-Equal-Treatment.aspx
Cotton, F. and Conrow, F., 1998. An investigation of the predictive validity of IELTS amongst a group of international students studying at the University of Tasmania. IELTS research reports, 1(4), pp.72-115.
Feast, V., 2002. The impact of IELTS scores on performance at university. International Education Journal, 3(4), pp.70-85.
Galletta, A. (2013). Mastering the semi-structured interview and beyond: From re-search design to analysis and publication (Vol. 18). New York University Press.
Hunter, J. (2022, March 9). Changes to the IELTS, TOEFL and Duolingo tests under covid-19. The Student. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/advice/changes-ielts-toefl-and-duolingo-tests-under-covid-19
Neumann, H., Padden, N. and McDonough, K., 2019. Beyond English language proficiency scores: Understanding the academic performance of international undergraduate students during the first year of study. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(2), pp.324-338.
Read, J., 2022. Test Review: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Language Testing, p.02655322221086211.
Salehi, M. and Marefat, F., 2014. The Effects of Foreign Language Anxiety and Test Anxiety on Foreign Language Test Performance. Theory & Practice in Language Studies, 4(5).
Sawir, E., Marginson, S. Forbes-Mewett, H., Nyland, C. & Ramia, G. (2012). International Student Security and English Language Proficiency. Journal of Studies in International, 16(5), 434-454.
Solano-Flore, G. & Li, M. (2008). Examining the Dependability of Academic Achievement Measures for English Language Learners. Assessment for Effective intervention, 33(3), 135-144.
The University of Cambridge (2022). The format of interviews for 2023 entry is currently under review. Please check back for further details in due course. Retrieved from: https://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/interviews/why-do-we-interview
Zheng, Y. and Cheng, L., 2018. How does anxiety influence language performance? From the perspectives of foreign language classroom anxiety and cognitive test anxiety. Language Testing in Asia, 8(1), pp.1-19.