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Nursing faculty wants English test

U of M senate delays decision until 2014

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The University of Manitoba's faculty of nursing could require new students to pass an English language oral proficiency test as early as September 2014.

The nursing faculty reported 13 per cent of applicants -- from a pool of more than 600 would-be students a year -- do not have English as a first language. Of those who make the cut, 23 per cent do not have English as a first language.

"Lack of proficiency in oral English is creating significant problems for some students who are admitted to the four-year baccalaureate nursing program, even though these students have demonstrated their language proficiency through an assessment test... or qualified for a waiver of assessment tests by virtue of length of residency or completion of high school in Canada," the nursing faculty told the university's senate.

Not only is a lack of oral English proficiency a classroom problem, it can be dangerous in the workplace, warned the faculty.

The ability to communicate effectively in the clinical setting is a critical element of the student's ability to provide safe, ethical and competent care, the senate was told.

The nursing faculty had wanted new proficiency standards in place by the start of the 2013 school year, but the senate bounced the proposal back for further study, delaying implementation until at least September 2014.

University officials said the faculty of nursing would not be making anyone available for an interview.

Nursing is studying the senate discussion and reconsidering details of its proposal, said John Danakas, director of U of M marketing and communications.

The U of M Faculty Association also declined to comment.

"This isn't an issue which the membership in nursing have raised with us, and so we don't have sufficient information regarding a position, and don't have any comment on it at the present time," said UMFA president Prof. Sharon Alward.

U of M Students' Union president Bilan Arte said UMSU accepted nursing's position in principle, but not in the details.

"It is really important, especially during the practicum and patient interaction, that they be able to comprehend the most common language spoken in Manitoba and in the health-care system," Arte said. "It can be life-threatening."

UMSU questioned part of the proposal that would have required prospective students to pay for an oral language test if English wasn't their first language, even if their oral English skills were otherwise perfectly acceptable, she said.

"There was some concern this would be discriminating against students who indicated English was their second or third language," said Arte.

Arte said a student should be able to declare proficiency and not be automatically tested just because of the language spoken in their home when they were born.

The first language a student learns is not relevant if that student is proficient in English, said the UMSU president.

Neither the nursing faculty nor the U of M would say what, if anything, had caused the faculty to come forward.

Officials could not say if any other program has a requirement similar to the faculty of nursing's proposal.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2012 A10

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