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ETS reveals fallout in UK contained; unveils voice biometrics

The number of students affected by the recent removal of ETS exams TOEFL and TOEIC from the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) list of Selected English Language Testing (SELT) providers has been contained, global stakeholders say. Meanwhile, the testing giant has unveiled a new additional level of patent-pending voice recognition software to its security protocol.

An ETS film explains the security protocols that a test taker will go through. Now, voice biometrics are an added layer of security

ETS has not calculated the number of students who have received refunds but the spokesperson said it was "considerably less given the Home Office's acceptance of all scores prior to the 17"

The Home Office’s decision to accept TOEFL and TOEIC scores submitted with student visa applications for exams taken prior to April 17 has helped minimise any disruption, sources indicate.

There was a 12-day period in question, between April 5 when the contract officially ended and April 17, when the decision not to renew the contract was confirmed, which did impact on the latest tranche of students accepted to the UK under Brazil’s Science Without Borders (SwB) government scholarship programme using TOEFL scores, for example.

Over 2,700 undergraduate students will study in the UK in September 2014. According to Programme Director Tanya Lima, all the students in the SwB programme took the TOEFL last year and about 60% of students were in the latest cohort to apply for their visas.

As the SELT licence was held jointly for TOEIC and TOEFL tests to be used in visa decisions, both exams are now no longer accepted by the Home Office, despite TOEFL security not being questioned.

ETS has not calculated the number of students who have received refunds but the spokesperson said it was “considerably less given the Home Office’s acceptance of all [test] scores prior to the 17th”.

Education consultants in key UK student markets including India and Nigeria, where TOEFL was particularly common, said they don’t expect there to be much interruption either.

“There won’t be a major effect on our business as there are two popular alternatives here in Nigeria – Pearson and IELTS,” Bukky Awofisayo at UKEAS Nigeria told The PIE News.

ETS has no plans to provide remuneration to third party TOEIC vendors and is positive that the removal from the SELT list will not impact revenue.

“The TOEIC is currently taken 7 million times a year so we’re talking a small number in the total sense. And with TOEFL not involved really, we don’t expect a great impact there. It remains the most widely accepted academic English exam in the world including the UK regardless of us having a licence there or not [for use in visa decisions],” a company spokesperson said.

And in the last week, ETS has announced the roll-out worldwide of voice biometrics for all TOEFL exams after an 18-month pilot phase.

The new technology will enable ETS to identify impersonators by their unique “voiceprint” and cancel their scores before they are reported, the company claims.

“TOEFL remains the most widely accepted academic English exam in the world including the UK regardless of us having a licence there or not”

The announcement is reported not to be related to the recent TOEIC scandal in the UK.

“We had always planned to roll this out globally, but we went very cautiously into the biometric field test because we didn’t want to rush biometrics onto the marketplace,” said the spokesperson.

“The last thing we want to do is [impact] honest test takers who we review and perhaps mistakenly cancel their scores so we wanted to make sure that the biometric technology worked exactly as we wished,” he said.

“It’s going to be rolled out  to TOEIC later this year but has nothing to do with the coincidence that we announced it shortly after we withdrew from the UK,” he added.

Last month, ETS announced that it would not seek to extend its licence agreement with the Home Office after a BBC TV exposé in February revealed fraud uncovered at two TOEIC UK testing centres.

Founded as a nonprofit in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE ® tests and The Praxis Series® assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.

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