THE photos of Tunde Omotoye, Fola Aina and Dipo Awojide are widely circulated on Twitter and LinkedIn as they were offered a one-year sponsorship deal with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) as brand ambassadors.
Their selection ticks off all the boxes for a model intellectual with a Gen Z fan base: Nigerian professionals in the diaspora with thousands of Twitter followers.
Awojide, a Senior Lecturer in Strategy at Nottingham Trent University, has over 900,000 followers on Twitter, while Aina is a Development Policy expert with over 113,000 followers.
And Omotoye, the co-founder of Humansquad, a Canada-based immigration tech startup, has over 327,000 followers on Twitter.
Brands and advertisers are attracted to influencers with high follower counts, especially on Twitter, because the more people influencers reach, the more money they make.
While Awojide and Omotoye had their contracts renewed from last year, Aina is a new entrant into the image-making enterprise of IELTS in Nigeria.
Their job description is simply to convince Nigerians seeking admission into universities or visa for jobs in European countries to take the IELTS tests and proffer strategies that project the brand in Nigeria.
While the brand ambassadors are paid to look at the positives of the IELTS, young Nigerians bear the brunt of its exorbitant charges.
The average cost of taking the IELTS test in Nigeria ranges from N83,000($200.5) for academic and general tests to N89,500 ($216.2) for UK Visas and Immigration tests.
This amount is twice the minimum wage of a worker in Nigeria, who earns N30,000 monthly.
Also, the shelflife of the IELTS test is two years.
IELTS is an English language proficiency test for non-native English speakers jointly managed by the British Council, IDP, IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English.
The tests are conducted multiple times a year and approved by United Kingdom Visas and Immigration(UKVI) for visa customers applying outside and inside the UK.
A Twitter user Olabayo Emmanuel who wrote the IELTS test in 2018, said he failed to gain admission into any of the schools as the validity of the test expired in 2020.
“I will never write that English language test again. I wrote in January 2018, and it expired (after two years) without having the opportunity to use it.
“English is our official language. I was taught in English right from primary school to university. These guys are cheats!!!” he said.
His reaction sums up the frustration of Nigerians who have made repeated calls faulting the IELTS test as being “exploitative” and “unfairly burdensome” for Nigerians.
Profiting from the Pains of IELTS Applicants
Established in 1989, the IELTS has risen in popularity, endorsed by over 10,000 organisations in more than 140 countries.
The average cost of writing IELTS is $283 as of 2021. This figure is arrived at by dividing the average of all English Language testing revenue by the total number of IELTS tests conducted in 2021.
Over the past three years, Nigeria is ranked as one of IELTS biggest revenue contributors, based on earnings from its application fees, the IELTS 2021 financial report reveals.
“The entry into Nigeria three years ago with the IELTS business has been very successful with very strong growth being recorded in 2021 financial year,” a section of the auditor’s statement reads.
The UK Home office exempts the citizens of 18 countries from participating in proficiency tests, however, no English speaking country in Africa makes the list.
On April 6, 2001, the British Government registered IELTS Inc as a non-profit company in Delaware, a corporate tax haven in the United States, US.
The joint venture company would be responsible for developing, administering and marketing the IELTS examinations.
Its subsidiaries are British Council, IELTS Australia, IDP Education LLC and Cambridge Assessment English.
However, IELTS Inc has been making profits through its subsidiaries from conducting English Language tests on non-native English speakers.
Between 2016 to 2021, the British Government generated $771.2 million(N319.2 billion) as gross profits made off the backs of prospective students and visa applicants who took the tests.
In Africa, Uganda pays the highest IELTS application fee at $317(USh1.11 million), which is 1,000 per cent more than its monthly minimum wage of $1.70(USh6,000).
Other Anglophone countries in Africa where IELTS applicants spend more than their minimum wage to write the exams include Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Despite, the high IELTS application fees, millions of applicants are subjected to take the tests each year.
Checks by The ICIR into the 2020 financial report of one of IELTS subsidiaries shows that IELTS conducted tests for 1.09 million candidates in 2020, compared to the 1.28 million candidates who took the exams in 2019.
The number of IELTS candidates in the 2021 financial year increased by 4.9 per cent as 1.14 million candidates sat for the exams in 2021.
Finding by The ICIR shows that between 2016 to 2021, the amount spent on marketing the IELTS exams outstripped its spendings on beneficiaries of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, CSC.
The UK Government spent $118.6 million(N49 billion) on marketing expenses to promote the IELTS exams, while $116.9 million(N48 billion) was used to provide scholarships for needy students in the commonwealth countries.
Just like JAMB, I still don’t understand why people have to pay N75K for International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the result expires in 2 years. That’s a lot of money. They make billion of Naira in profit from Nigeria 🇳🇬. Reduce the fee by half or even 30%!
— Dr. Dípò Awójídé (@OgbeniDipo) May 5, 2020
Before Awojide became an IELTS brand ambassador, he was a Twitter advocate against the high cost of the application fees, saying IELTS was ripping off Nigerians.
“Just like JAMB, I still don’t understand why people have to pay N75K for International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and the result expires in 2 years.
“That’s a lot of money. They make billions of naira in profit from Nigeria. Reduce the fee by half or even 30%!” he tweeted on May 5, 2020.
It’s unlikely he still maintains this position as he now proudly flies the banner of IELTS in Nigeria, persuading Nigerians to take the test.
A Policy in Need of Reforms
While the IELTS tests are expensive, and fees more than double the minimum wage in Nigeria; the test results are valid only for two years.
Ebenezar Wikina, the founder of Policy Shapers, an open-source platform that curates policy ideas, had applied to study at Nexford University when he was asked to prove he could communicate in English.
He met other criteria set by the admissions committee.
Despite, presenting a certificate from Harvard as evidence he could speak English, they turned him down.
Nexford University insisted they would consider his application if he takes the IELTS test.
“That sounds like all shades of wrong to me when you consider that there are 25 English-speaking countries in Africa,” he said in an interview.
Wikina engaged the university in a heated exchange of emails asking them to reverse the unfair policy and brought the conversation to Twitter which went viral.
His action paid off as the admissions board introduced a new policy called the Academic Evaluation Pending (AEP).
This programme allows prospective students to take their first course at Nexford, while approval of other courses will depend on if they understand English or not.
Wikina launched an online petition as a follow-up to a #ReformIELTSPolicy, a campaign he started in 2020.
His demand is simple, the UK government should adjust its IELTS policies by first slashing its application fees.
“A good start would be to reduce the price of the exam to make sure it’s proportionate with the minimum wage in respective countries and remove the expiration clause.
“There’s no way that my English knowledge would expire,” he said.
He is not alone in the clamour for the IELTS to change their position towards African nations in the commonwealth.
In 2018, a pan-African media organisation, This Is Africa (TIA), started a petition to exempt citizens of African commonwealth countries from English proficiency tests.
The petition has been signed by 99,514 people as of January 13.
The ICIR sent emails to the British Council to ask how many Nigerians had taken the IELTS exams since 2015, amount generated from the application fees and the amount paid to its brand ambassadors.
The emails were yet to be responded to as at the time of filing this report.