An explosion in the number of students sitting the English language test required for entry into overseas universities has forced organizers to expand exam capacity.
Between May and July, International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examinees in Shanghai grew by around 70 percent over the same period last year, according to the British Consulate General in Shanghai.
To cope with numbers, an additional test has been timetabled for September 2 and extra examination rooms arranged to accommodate those sitting tests tabled for August 5, 12 and 26.
Extra space also had to be provided to make room for examinees who sat exams in June and July.
"We think the number of people sitting the exam will keep increasing. Next year, we expect to see even more people taking the test," said Lin Yun, PR Manager of the Cultural and Education Section of the British Consulate in Shanghai.
Last year, around 100,000 people sat the exam on the Chinese mainland, with around 10,000 taking the exam in Shanghai between May and July. This year that figure has risen to around 17,000.
Popularity of the exam, originally designed for entry into British universities, has grown partly because of recognition in the US. This began in 2003 and now covers around 900 American universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, said Ewan Davies, vice-consul of the British Consulate.
"For many Chinese who want to go to the US to carry on their study, American universities' recognition of the test is significant," said Davies.
"It's understandable that so many people have taken the exam in the last several months."
Another reason for the exam's rising popularity is that, since May 1, people no longer have to wait 90 days to re-take the test.
"We understood that different examinees have different reasons for re-taking the test, so we decided to abolish the restrictions. This is a major reason for the increase in people sitting each exam since May some people have re-taken the test two or more times," he added.
The boom in examinees has also coincided with the freeing up of student visa applications to the UK.
"In 2005, from January to June, 4,000 Chinese received student visas to Britain. In the same period this year, that increased to 6,000 or so.
"The number of student visas issued by the British Consulate in Shanghai has also increased 50 percent compared with the same period last year,'" said Davies.
Increased competition for jobs is one reason so many university graduates are looking to continue their studies abroad.
"It has become more and more difficult for graduates to find good jobs," said Chen Jia, 22, a recent English language graduate from Shanghai University.
Chen, who will go to Birmingham University in the UK this autumn, said many of his classmates had opted to study in the UK after graduation.
"I think that more IELTS tests and more test sites are good news for people who want to go to the UK. I took the test in January, but I had to apply several months before I took the test because there was a long waiting list," he said.
According to Davies, there are currently around 60,000 Chinese students in Britain, of whom 53,000 are in higher education.
"We can expect to see more and more Chinese students going to Britain and that will further feed the demand for IELTS. So we will continue to make it more convenient for people who want to take the exam," said Davies.
(China Daily August 3, 2006)