ETS TOEFL optimistic about future amid South Asian student resurgence

In a recent PIE webinar, Michelle Hampton, Director, TOEFL Institutional Relations, ETS  and Esther Park, Associate Director, TOEFL Client Relations, ETS Canada, told of how the two countries have been seeing promising growth despite the pandemic.

In terms of Canada’s growth, by 2019 there was a 310% increase in students from South Asia – with certain provinces having more success than others.

“Ontario has had the highest growth over the last three years…not just due to the number of institutions in those provinces, but also with more post-graduation work opportunities,” said Park during the webinar.

Fellow panellist, Bassel Zoueiter, who founded Canadian-headquartered immigration firm Encubate, explained that Canada’s current motives for students go far beyond the post-secondary experience.

“The government’s objective is to create something called active citizens…somebody who will be able to give back.

“They’ve lengthened the number of years engineering students can be in service for their OPT”

“The best way the government finds this to happen is that foreign nationals come, study, work, integrate and then after that be able to get their permanent residency,” Zoueiter said.

However, Park did urge caution to students in any case, as part-time work has become slightly scarcer over the course of the pandemic.

“Students need to have a plan…having a part-time job as supplementary income would still be the safest bet, or look for different opportunities like scholarships.”

Hampton also stressed that the recent change in administration in the US government has begun to allow more leeway on employment opportunities for international graduates.

“I do believe that the Biden administration has made many strides in removing the barricades to that happening,” explained Hampton.

“They’ve lengthened the number of years, for example, that engineering students can be in service for their OPT, which was a tremendous struggle during the previous administration.”

Hampton also took the time to tell viewers about TOEFL iBT Home Edition, which was born out of the pandemic.

“Within a matter of weeks [after Covid hit] we were able to get our at home test up and running, which gives the opportunity for us to still provide a quality assessment and a set of scores to institutions, but allow people to take it safely at home.”

“I do believe that the Biden administration has made many strides in removing the barricades to [employment opportunities]”

The new system uses added security features to make sure those taking the test are alone whilst taking the examination, including 100% live human proctoring and AI technologies, such as eye tracking software.

TOEFL iBT Home Edition was initially introduced as a Covid measure, but as the pandemic continued, ETS realised in November last year that they “had to make it a permanent offering.”

“It was so popular amongst students because there will always be reasons why students won’t be able to take a test in person… like added expense to travel to the nearest test centre, or maybe they have childcare problems,” Hampton added.

ETS has also recently introduced TOEFL iBT Paper Edition, a paper-based version of the TOEFL iBT test, and in August, it introduced the new TOEFL Essentials test, a shorter test taken from home.

ETS TOEFL is “confident” that its range of test offerings and options will not only cater to students, who are empowered to select test is best suited to them, but to institutions that can use these tools to expand their pool of diverse, qualified applicants.

Park described the importance of a diverse student population for Canadian institutions. “It is concerning that Canada’s international students are becoming less diverse,” Park said, referring especially to the number of new study permits issued in the last two years.

“So many institutions in Canada are dependent on these new [South Asia] markets…the reality of the situation now is that these students are very much needed in Canada.”

Park explained that there is a “combined effort” between government institutions and industry leaders to attract even more students to Canada in the coming years.


Zoueiter remarked that postgraduate programs, including diploma or masters, have “become one of the most important factors for immigration and integration in Canada”.

And Shanthi Mohan, who is an advisor at EducationUSA in India, said their centres were still experiencing “much higher interest” from South Asian students for North America.

“There is always a sustained interest in the US for higher education,” Mohan explained during the panel.

“The experience they’re learning, the flexibility in curriculum and the [variety] of major US institutions offered is an added attraction to students.”


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