The recent decision by Xi'an Jiaotong University to no longer require the passing of the College English Test in order to graduate has been welcomed by education experts, who say that it will lead to a more practical application of the language.
The first-tier university said on Thursday that the participation and results of any English proficiency exams will no longer determine whether a student can graduate or earn a degree after Sept 1.
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said that the CET is not the exclusive approach to testing students' English proficiency.
"When the CET was introduced in the 1980s, the quality of English teaching in primary and secondary schools was poor. However, students at Xi'an Jiaotong University nowadays have good English proficiency. Thus, it's no longer necessary to push them for such an exam," said Chu.
The Ministry of Education has never introduced mandatory English requirements for graduation.
However, many universities in China have used the CET as a qualification for graduation. The CET-4 is typically a must-have for undergraduates, while the CET-6 is often required for master's and doctorate degree candidates.
In 2005, to curb the rising tendency for higher education institutions to do so, the ministry stressed the test's nature as only an auxiliary means of English teaching, and later introduced the test's first reform, bringing the total scores from 100 to 710 and changing the certificate from grading A, B or C to scores reflecting their rankings among all test takers.
At that time, several prestigious universities, such as Tsinghua University, Renmin University of China and China University of Political Science and Law, canceled or adjusted their English requirements for graduation. However, most other universities kept such criteria and formulated their own passing scores, most commonly accepted at 425 points.
Reforms of the test structure and question type have also been deepening. For instance, the spoken part was added, the writing part became an independent paper, and the proportion of listening increased to 35 percent, all aiming to enhance the test takers' practical application of the English language.
"English teaching is being transformed from exam-oriented to ability training," Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Beijing News.
A growing number of universities have been trying to explore a new path of English teaching.
Peking University divides its students into five categories in accordance with their majors and the results of post-admissions exams. Usually, the higher scores they get, the fewer credits they need to earn for English learning.
"This cancellation is not necessarily going to have a prompt response on the level of language proficiency. However, less rigid requirements and more plentiful teaching methods will definitely pave the way for students' futures, in which English learning can be combined more with high-tech development, and it will meet practical needs," said Chu.
Li Menghan contributed to this story.