Students fly overseas to take IELTS exams after indefinite suspension in Vietnam

By Thanh Hang, Duy Phuong   November 13, 2022 | 12:46 am PT
Students fly overseas to take IELTS exams after indefinite suspension in Vietnam
Candidates take an online IELTS test in Thailand, July 2022. Photo courtesy of British Council Thailand
Many Vietnamese students are spending money on flying to nearby countries to take the IELTS test after it was indefinitely postponed in Vietnam.

Less than a day after all IELTS tests conducted by the only two authorized entities in Vietnam – the British Council and the IDP – were postponed without setting new dates, Tran Nhung, 19, from Da Nang City decided to register for the test in Thailand.

"I was totally confused and felt miserable," said Nhung, recalling her reaction on reading the British Council's announcement about indefinitely postponing IELTS exams, starting November 10.

Nhung was supposed to take the test on November 19. She needs an IELTS certificate early December to complete her college application for Canada.

"It was very hard to register for the exam with the British Council, but now all my money and efforts have been wasted," Nhung said.

Seeing Nhung's desperation, her English teacher recommended that she registers for the IELTS test on November 21 at the British Council in Thailand.

She did not hesitate and soon after registering, book an air ticket and hotel for her stay in Bangkok.

In addition to the exam fee of VND5.1 million ($205), Nhung had to pay an additional VND6 million for an air ticket and a four-day stay in Thailand.

She also had to accept losing the exam fee of VND4.6 million she had paid to the British Council in Vietnam.

"I accepted losing this money as securing a place to take the IELTS exam at this time was most important," she said.

Because the exam is taken on a computer, she will receive results in about a week, and can send the application to Canada.

Hanoi resident Thu Ngan, 22, has also registered to take the IELTS test in Thailand on December 1. She needs the certificate to do a master's degree in Australia. Ngan had an exam scheduled on November 10 with the British Council in Vietnam, but it was canceled.

She was told to have an IELTS score as soon as possible to apply for a visa.

"The waiting time for a visa is about two months. If I hesitate, I may miss the new semester, which starts in mid-February next year," Ngan said.

Nhung and Ngan are among hundreds of Vietnamese students who plan to travel abroad for taking IELTS tests following the completely unexpected postponement in Vietnam.

The postponement "until further notice" by the British Council and IDP was caused by the organizations failing to acquire their approval documents, the education ministry said, adding that the exams were not being managed properly.

Ho Quang Huy, head of Legal Document Inspection Department at the Ministry of Justice, said the government had issued a decree in June 2018 requiring organizations to receive updated approval from the education ministry to organize foreign language tests.

Huy blamed the education ministry for poor communication, saying that earlier announcements from the ministry would give organizations more time to prepare their documents.

The education ministry's circular demanding organizations to complete procedures for approval took effect on July 26. Several organizations have started to suspend their tests from September.

The postponement of IELTS exams has caused a lot of trouble for students who'd begun filing their admission documents to study abroad.

Certain Vietnamese universities also use the IELTS scores as an admission criterion and as a graduation benchmark, so students planning to study at home were also upset.

The idea of going abroad for the IELTS exam went viral on social media soon after the postponements were announced, attracting great interest from Vietnamese students. Thailand was mentioned the most because it is the easiest country to get to, requires no visa and is already a highly popular tourist destination.

Surprise opportunity

Travel firms have not been slow in waking up to the possibility of a business boost. Several are working in haste to organize tour packages for students to Thailand, Singapore and Laos for taking the IELTS test and to go sightseeing.

Nguyen Tien Dat, director of Hanoi-based AZA Travel Company, said organizing tour packages was quite feasible as no visa was required for traveling between Southeast Asian countries. Travel firms only need to find the IELTS test locations and arrange accommodation for guests to ensure easy travel.

The media representative of an overseas study counseling center said that about 20% of Vietnamese students (40-50 people) wanted to take the IELTS test in a Southeast Asian country.

"They are asking us to find tour programs for taking the test abroad," the unnamed representative said.

Tu Pham, founder of the online English test preparation platform Prep, said candidates who register for the IELTS test abroad at this time are those who are in urgent need of a certificate to complete their application to study abroad or work in early spring next year.

From now until the IELTS test date in Thailand, Ngan has more than two weeks to review her preparations.

She said she needed to focus on improving her writing skills to get a 7.0 IELTS as her initial goal.

"In the coming days, even if Vietnam reopens the exams, I will still go to Thailand to take the test. I don't want to change my plan again," she said.

Meanwhile, many IELTS experts have urged candidates to stay calm.

The education ministry said Saturday said it would prioritize the approval for foreign language proficiency exams, especially IELTS and TOEFL, in the coming days.

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