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Language proficiency testing widely suspended in Vietnam

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Many testing organisations have announced the suspension of language exams in Vietnam as they work to comply with additional regulatory requirements from the Vietnamese government
  • Each testing provider will now need official approval from the Ministry of Education and Training in order to deliver tests in the country
  • The move has disrupted the study and testing plans for thousands of applicants planning to study abroad in 2023

Updates for 22 November: Media reports indicate that IDP and the British Council have now been approved to resume operations at their IELTS testing centres in Vietnam. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from ETS confirms that TOEFL testing has continued as normal. “ETS, in coordination with the Ministry of Education and Training Vietnam, confirms that all TOEFL and TOEIC tests in country have valid licenses. Testing has not been interrupted and is fully operational. Test takers are encouraged to register via their online ETS account for TOEFL iBT tests, and via the IIG Vietnam site for TOEIC, TOEFL IPT, TOEFL Junior and TOEFL Primary tests.”

Questions around the administration of language proficiency tests in Vietnam came to a head this month when the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) announced new requirements for test providers on 8 November 2022. In effect, the MOET statement set out that exams for foreign language proficiency can only be given by organisations that have received official permission from the Ministry to do so.

The move follows a series of suspensions of testing schedules announced in September and October, including proficiency exams for Chinese (HSK, HSKK), Korean (TOPIK), and Japanese (NAT-Test). Sittings for other exams, including PTE, were postponed as early as 10 September.

Following the Ministry’s 8 November announcement, the two major IELTS providers operating in Vietnam, the British Council and IDP, said that they too were postponing testing until further notice. “We apologise to inform you that all IELTS tests arranged by the British Council in Vietnam have now been suspended till further notice,” said a British Council email to registered test takers on 10 November. “This decision is beyond our control and will affect all foreign language examinations in Vietnam. The resumption of the test depends on the consent of the Ministry of Education and Training, with whom we are collaborating to obtain the required approvals as quickly as possible.”

Needless to say, the widespread suspension of testing will affect thousands of Vietnamese students applying to study abroad next year, with many requiring test scores to support admissions applications to universities in North America or Europe as early as January 2023.

Proficiency exam results are also used by universities within Vietnam, either during admissions processes or as part of graduation requirements. With many other tests now suspended, the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City has asked its nine member-universities to adopt Vietnam’s VSTEP exam (Vietnamese Standardized Test of English Proficiency) for purposes of admissions and graduation evaluation. The VSTEP has been offered by the MET since 2014 but has not been widely adapted by Vietnamese universities to this point.

Why is this happening?

The November statement from the MOET explained that the Ministry has a number of concerns around test administration in the country. Speaking afterward to media, Deputy Minister Nguyen Nguyen Huu Do said that not all official requirements for local test administration had been met, leading in turn to concerns around fraud and the use of forged documents by test takers. “This can cause bad public opinion, affect the rights of exam takers, and the rights and interests of organisations that seriously implement exams and issue certificates,” he added. “In addition, other negative effects can be confusion in choosing the right certification, causing loss of state tax revenue and reducing the attractiveness and transparency of the business investment environment in the field of education in Vietnam.”

“The Ministry has guided related parties and conducted urgent appraisals, but the dossiers of request for approval from many exam organisations have not [yet] met the requirements,” said the Deputy Minister.

In a further comment to media outlets on 12 November, the MOET said it intends to prioritise approvals for the resumption of major foreign language exams, notably IELTS. “If the dossier meets the requirements, the ministry will process as quickly as possible to ensure compliance, within about 20 days. Afterwards, the approval will be publicly posted on the ministry’s information portal,” Deputy Minister Do noted.

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