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Shileen Costain, Pearson PTE

Shileen Costain is the director of global market development at Pearson PTE. With 22 years of experience in education, and 13 of those with Pearson, Shileen has a unique perspective of the international market. She spoke to The PIE about the recent successes of PTE Academic, the importance of client-well being as well as her upcoming roundtable discussion at The PIE Live 2022.


"A key focus that my team is working on is figuring out who are the emerging players that we need to be working with to ensure that we can find new solutions."

The PIE: Last year, Pearson PTE Academic saw some big changes. Can you talk us through them?

Shileen Costain: Making changes to or releasing a new high stakes English test is not something that happens overnight or quickly, and we were really excited about it. We reduced the length of our tests from three hours down to two hours. It is a really innovative change in the testing market based on  years of research working to build that out. It’s about ensuring that test-takers and our institutions and governments that we work with still get the same great quality outcome from PTE, but that we’re testing the right length of time. We also launched academic online, which is the online version of PTE Academic, delivered through our proctoring software that ensures the same high level of security for our test-takers and institutions.

“It’s great to have an online option that allows test-takers to test at home when they can’t get to a test centre”

PTE Academic online is not accepted for migration and visa purposes, but it is accepted for study into universities. It’s great to have an online option that allows test-takers to test at home when they can’t get to a test centre. Our research has shown that that test-takers still prefer the controlled environment but there are plenty of countries and plenty of situations where test-takers can’t get to a test centre and being able to to provide for them the exact same standard of testing that they need and that our institutions and governments expect has been really great.

The PIE: What are the benefits of reducing the length of tests?

SC: Our research showed that we could bring in the same quality test at a testing session for two hours, which reduces the stress on test-takers. Getting your English language test might be a small part of your overall journey to migrate or study, but it can be stressful.

The PIE: It’s great to hear that you’re considerate of test-taker’s well-being. Is that something that is really important to you as a organisation?

SC: Absolutely. I think the power of us being part of a broader English language learning vertical is that we’re able to bring together more solutions that can help reduce the stress of applications and processing with what we do with institutions. This includes launching partnerships with all sorts of different organisations so that we can help them find solutions to their problems.

The PIE: As global development manager, where do you look for solutions when you are facing a challenge in the workplace? 

SC: We’ve got a great team around us. It always sounds cheesy, but it’s a great bunch of people at Pearson. I think that’s why I’ve worked for them for so long. We’ve got a good team that comes together and supports each other, across all of our different business units as well. When an opportunity pops up, we will lean on each other to work it out and find a solution.

The PIE: What’s next for Pearson PTE?

SC: A key focus that my team is working on is figuring out who the emerging players that we need to be working with are to ensure that we can find new solutions. Our PTE Partner Portal launched last year in India to a really amazing success of being able to on-board over 800 agents to that portal and we are rolling that out worldwide.

Our portal allows partners that want to book on behalf of the test-taker or works with a test-taker or PTE, to be able to to have a lot more access to the process to help smooth the way for the students. It gives them visibility over bookings by being able to quickly change and adjust bookings as things happen. That’s really important from a pandemic perspective. Being able to allow agents to quickly adjust and adapt and support their customers was really important for us.

The PIE: Which other countries has the PTE Partner Portal been most successful?

SC: We’ve started in China, and that’s ramping up really quickly, but also through what we call our India hub markets including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, where we’re doing a lot of work as well in that in that area. So really global, we’re on-boarding a lot of partners.

The PIE: Are there any market trends you predict for the rest of 2022?

SC: In general, we’re seeing a big appetite for English language learning across the globe. For us, that is a real focus. Our CEO [Andy Bird] recently announced Pearson’s performance and our growth has been up and PTE is playing a huge role in that. We’re seeing that growth across markets. India has been a huge area but also those new emerging markets that we’re seeing in parts of Africa and in Nepal. There are lots of new markets where English language is becoming critical to support their moves to migrate or study abroad.

“There are lots of new markets where English language is becoming critical to support their moves to migrate or study abroad”

The PIE: The international education suffered greatly due to the pandemic. What are you looking forward to most about the sector beginning to re-open?

SC: I am looking forward to getting out there face-to-face. That’s why we wanted to get on board with the The PIE Live roundtable and actually be able to sit down and meet with stakeholders and listen to their challenges and issues.

The pandemic has changed the world of international education but I think as we start to emerge from that, it’s been heartening to see the sector start to recover and rebound. The speed with which it’s done so has been astounding. So I think it’s great to to know that international education is always going to play a big part around the world. We love that we can play a role in that.

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