Canadian universities are extending deadlines for English proficiency exams for prospective students in China or looking for other ways to remotely assess language skills after the tests were cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
International students seeking to attend universities in Canada must take one of several standardized English proficiency exams, with deadlines at many schools in February and March.
But the testing agencies that run the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) announced last week that exams in China have been suspended through the end of March. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), which is used for graduate school admission, is also suspended.
Educational Testing Service, which runs the TOEFL and GRE exams, said it has alerted colleges and universities about the test cancellations and is asking schools to be understanding. IELTS tests are also suspended in Macau until March 1 and Hong Kong until Feb. 24.
Matthew Ramsey, the director of university affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said the school has extended its deadline for proficiency test submissions until the end of March, instead of the current Feb. 15 deadline.
“We have communicated, and continue to communicate, directly with affected applicants to provide guidance and direction on how they can best proceed to complete their application for admission to UBC,” Mr. Ramsey said in an e-mail.
He said the school would work with students who need different arrangements.
Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, B.C., has also extended its deadlines for transcripts and test scores until the end of March. University spokesman Ian Bryce said the school will be watching the situation closely to determine if that deadline needs to be extended further.
Mr. Bryce said most of SFU’s international applicants are already studying in Canada and are not affected by the closure of test centres in China, Hong Kong and Macau. He added the university has reached out directly to applicants in the affected regions, which was approximately 4 per cent of all applicants for the fall session.
Other schools are looking for other ways to test language proficiency for students who can’t take the exam.
Cynthia Lee, a spokeswoman for McGill University, said the school plans to allow students affected by the exam cancellations to demonstrate their English skills online.
Concordia University is now accepting results from the Duolingo English Test, which can be taken online with results ready in two days.
Many Canadian universities have sizable populations of international students, who pay far higher tuition fees than their Canadian counterparts, and China is often the single largest source of those students. At UBC, there were nearly 5,000 students from China enrolled in 2016, more than one-third of all international students. At the University of Toronto, there were about 11,500 students from China enrolled in the 2017-18 academic year, representing roughly 60 per cent of all international undergraduate and graduate students.
Kira Zhang, who is from Qingdao, China, is applying to attend Western University in London, Ont., this fall. She has already taken the test but needs a higher score by May. She worries she won’t be able to schedule an exam in time even if they have resumed by then.
“The problem is not that we cannot achieve [the scores], it’s we don’t have places to do the test,” she said.
The testing agencies have suggested students travel to other countries, such as Thailand, to take their tests, but Ms. Zhang said seats in Thailand in March are packed, and by April it will be too late for her application.
Education consultants believe the cancellation will affect applicants in China who are aiming to be enrolled for the fall semester, especially those who have yet to satisfy a minimum score requirement on English tests.
“It will have an impact on students who need a breakthrough in their language score,” said Windy Wen, general manager of Education International Cooperation’s Canada branch.
Alisa Feng, senior education consultant at the Canbridge Business Group’s Vancouver office, said that students who cannot get into their ideal schools directly might have to consider attending colleges or taking online courses first, and then transfer to major universities later.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said at the University of Toronto, there were 11,500 students from China enrolled in the 2017-18 academic year, which represented roughly 60 per cent of all undergraduate and graduate students. In fact, it is roughly 60 per cent of all international students.
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