An interesting appeal was recently heard involving a Tier 4 Student whose application was refused for the sole reason that they did not meet B2 of the Common European Framework for Language Learning (B2) in all four language components: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Whilst there are various ways a Tier 4 Student can demonstrate their English language level, this appeal concerned the use of an IELTS certificate. The student achieved a score of 5.0 in two skills and 6.0 in the others. The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) took the view that CEFR B2 is equivalent to IELTS 5.5. The UKBA concluded that the student did not meet this level and therefore refused the application.
The UKBA has done what it usually does, ‘hiding’ their assessment of how IELTS scores map to CEFR in a guidance document outside the Immigration Rules (sound familiar? Read on and found out why!).
It’s important to note that the UKBA is very careful in its use of language to describe their approval not accreditation of education providers when issuing Tier 4 sponsor licenses. Obviously, this is because the UKBA is not in the business of education, but rather immigration, and is therefore in no position to accredit anything in the world of education. It is therefore quite funny that they do not take this approach when deciding how IELTS scores should correspond to the CEFR.
As previously stated, the UKBA’s guidance states that CEFR B2 is equivalent to IELTS 5.5. However, a little bit of deeper research clearly shows this to be wrong. Who better to ask how the IELTS scores map to the CEFR than the exam provider themselves? A quick scan of the IELTS website provides some eye-opening details, namely that B2 is equivalent to an IELTS score range of 5.0 – 6.5. See the image below from the IELTS website mapping their scores to the CEFR:
Also contained on the IELTS website is some text of note:
Specifying the relationship between a test product and the CEFR is challenging because, in order to function as a framework, the CEFR is deliberately underspecified (Davidson & Fulcher, 2007; Milanovic, 2009; Weir, 2005). Establishing the relationship is also not a one-off activity, but rather involves the accumulation of evidence over time (e.g. it needs to be shown that test quality and standards are maintained). (…)
As IELTS preceded the CEFR, IELTS band scores have never aligned exactly with the CEFR transition points. The new table makes this clearer.
I therefore ask again: who better to ask what CEFR B2 is equivalent to under the IELTS framework than the exam provider and their researchers?
Armed with these facts, it was argued at the student’s appeal that the UKBA’s guidance on IELTS/CEFR B2 equivalency could not be relied upon. This is exactly what was found in the now in-famous Pankina case: UKA guidance could not be said to be an “extant and accessible outside source” [Para 26]. The outcome would surely have been different had the Immigration Rules or Guidance document had referred to an outside source, but they do not. The Guidance document simply states (incorrectly) what IELTS scores the UKBA considers to be CEFR B2.
Unsurprisingly, the judge agreed with what was presented above and the appeal was allowed.
From the perspective of international students, it’s sad that the language requirement has been implemented in such a complex, confusing and convoluted way, regardless of whether or not a pre-visa English language requirement is suitable or not. Yes there are bogus. Yes there are bogus students, but the majority are in fact hard-working students, who make good progress in their studies and are a benefit both to the UK and their home communities.