'Unauthorized' IELTS certificates leave students in shock

By Hung Huong, Tam Phuong   May 9, 2024 | 01:00 am PT
'Unauthorized' IELTS certificates leave students in shock
An IDP staff hands over files to students for an IELTS test, April 2023. Photo courtesy of IDP Education Vietnam
Many students are worried their university results will be canceled or their current applications will be rejected after 56,200 IELTS certificates were found to be in violation of regulations.

Minh Quang, a second-year student at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, was left in shock to learn that his 7.5 IELTS certificate, issued by IDP Vietnam, was classified as "unauthorized."

He took the test in March 2022 and used the certificate to apply for university admission in July that year.

"I'm panicking because if my certificate is now invalid, will I be expelled from the university? I'm also worried that I won't be able to achieve a 7.5 IELTS score again if I have to retake the test," he said.

Nguyen Kieu Oanh, a second-year student at Hanoi University of Science and Technology, used her 2022 IELTS certificate to be exempt from the English course at her university.

"If the school requires me to retake the course or submit a replacement certificate, I won't have enough energy because I already have to focus too much time and effort on major subjects," Oanh said.

Both Oanh and Quang hope that all parties involved can find a satisfactory solution to protect the rights of test-takers and ensure they do not suffer.

As announced Wednesday by the Ministry of Education and Training on Wednesday, its inspectors found 56,200 IELTS certificates issued by IDP in Vietnam in 2022 were done so against regulations.

The education firm had organized exams since early 2022 before it was approved to do so by the education ministry starting Nov. 17, 2022.

Specifically, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 9, 2022, the firm had organized 458 exams in over 30 cities and provinces and issued around 46,600 IELTS certificates. From Sept. 10 to Nov. 16, 2022, the firm organized 100 on-site exams and several other online exams in Hanoi, HCMC and Da Nang, issuing around 9,600 certificates.

Among those test takers were Quang and Oanh.

Many students are worried about having their results canceled, while others who already took the test fear the certificates won't be valid for university admissions this year.

The IELTS test fee is nearly VND5 million (US$196.52) per session.

Currently, nearly 100 universities nationwide use IELTS scores combined with school transcripts or exam results for admissions.

They are still awaiting guidance from education authorities to deal with the "unauthorized" IELTS certificates.

Associate Professor Vu Duy Hai, Head of Admissions and Career Counseling at Hanoi University of Science and Technology, believes it is challenging to revoke or cancel the results of students who were admitted in previous years.

He reasoned that the admissions process had already been completed, and students are already settled in their studies.

But universities may need to reconsider their admissions processes for this year, as many candidates' IELTS certificates from 2022 still remain valid.

"Universities must now wait for further guidance from the Ministry of Education and Training," said Hai.

Associate Professor Ha Le Kim Anh, Vice-Rector of the University of Languages and International Studies at Vietnam National University, Hanoi, said the university is in contact with the ministry to resolve the issue of the IELTS certificates issued by IDP from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16, 2022.

"If the ministry instructs universities not to accept those certificates, the universities must comply," she said. "But that would be very unfair to the students."

She explained that although IDP had not received ministry’s authorization during that period, the IELTS certificates still reflect the students' English proficiency.

"This is due to a change in ministry policy, not due to IDP's capacity or legality, as they were already conducting exams before that," she added.

The Head of the Training Department at another university who wants to stay anonymous was upset by the ministry’s inspection results.

He highlighted the fact that universities have been using IELTS scores in admissions to recognize language proficiency and the skills demonstrated in the test results.

"In principle, the test results remain of high quality and are recognized worldwide. The test scores are no different from those obtained before or after that period," he said.

Therefore, the issue of over 56,200 unauthorized IELTS certificates pertains only to administrative procedures between the test organizers and regulatory agencies and does not affect quality, he said.

"Universities only assess students' abilities and are not responsible for verifying the ministry's authorization."

The Education Ministry announced on Thursday that it was holding a meeting to resolve the issue.

IDP asserts that the 56,200 IELTS certificates issued in 2022 are still "recognized worldwide," but has not yet provided a solution for students using the IELTS scores for domestic university admissions.

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