The “search service” enables colleges to make direct contact with students who’ve completed the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which is conducted in 165 countries and is primarily taken for academic purposes.
Students must agree to be included in the database but it costs them nothing. Some 350,000 had registered within months of the service’s establishment, according to the test’s owner, Educational Testing Service.
“It’s kind of one of those opportunities waiting to happen,” said Australasian head of client relations, Helen Cook.
“We have this huge database of students who (are) already preselected – most intend to study abroad. They’re an ideal group.”
Ms Cook said the idea was based on a long-term arrangement involving ETS’s Graduate Record Examinations test. But this was the first time it had been applied to a large-scale test.
She said it offered a cost-effective alternative to agents, who weren’t allowed to register.
The database would be particularly useful for Australian colleges because it would introduce them to “students they may not have seen before”, Ms Cook said.
She said Australia’s exclusive use of IELTS tests for student visa purposes, which was only overturned mid last year, meant many universities and colleges had had relatively little contact with students who’d taken different tests.
It also meant non-IELTS students hadn’t traditionally looked to Australia as a study destination.
“These are students who want to study overseas and may be less aware of what is available in Australians institutions,” Ms Cook said.
“Frankly, we need new strategies. We need new channels, because the numbers have been pretty difficult of late for most institutions. This is broadening the pool.”
The service costs colleges US$250 ($242) a year plus a “small” fee per student name. Ms Cook said many Australian colleges had sophisticated enquiry management strategies and would be able to minimise their costs by targeting exactly the types of students they were seeking.
They can search on almost 30 different criteria including countries of origin, geographic regions and English language scores.
Precisely how many people take the TOEFL test is a carefully guarded commercial secret, but Ms Cook said the number was growing. The test has more than 27 million graduates worldwide, ETS says.