Key English test reserved for the few

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am

Exam that is required to work at many foreign firms can only be taken by college students, angering self-learners

New rules covering the mainland's national English test may prevent those studying the language on their own getting university places - and jobs at international firms - from 2007.

The Education Ministry's new regulation on the College English Test (CET) was unveiled by the Beijing Education Department's Examination Institute on Wednesday.

A CET level 4 qualification is essential for a bachelor's degree, as well as admission to masters' programmes.

Many international companies also require it for employees. Besides, new graduates from outside the capital wanting to become Beijing residents must have passed the test, introduced in 1987.

Citing the ministry's regulations, the institute said the CET level 4 and level 6 tests would be limited to applicants enrolled at universities, locking out of the system past graduates and those learning on their own.

Many such independent learners reacted strongly to the announcement, posting criticisms in internet chat rooms.

One writer blamed the move for worsening inequality in the education system.

'The rejection of 'social candidates' will pain the hearts of many young people ... I had thought that I could use my own ability in self-learning to pursue the qualification. But now I have only anger and dismay,' said one writer.

Xia Xueluan , a sociology professor at Peking University, said the former CET system had many shortcomings and badly needed reform.

'There were cheaters who stole and sold test questions before the examination, and those who took the test for others ... we couldn't stop them,' Professor Xia said. 'And it was a really bad idea to connect CET results to college graduation.'

But he said the proposed changes needed further consideration.

'It is good to have a test as criteria for people's English level. With CET grades, professors and employees will be able to choose a suitable range for respective fields and needs,' he said.

'But people off campus should not be excluded.

'It is a commonly-agreed-upon criterion for English, and people who want to take the test should have the right to take it.'

Several top universities in Beijing responded to the announcement by saying they were prepared to change some requirements for students applying for masters' programmes.

But they would wait for the education authorities to release additional details before making a decision.

Prominent training specialist Wang Changxi told that if long-standing university graduates could not take the CET test, they could demonstrate their English proficiency by taking other exams, such as the test of English as a Foreign Language.