Dr Nick SavilleFAcSS

  • Linguistics

Director of Thought Leadership at Cambridge University Press & Assessment English 

Dr Nick Saville was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2023. He is currently Director of Thought Leadership at Cambridge University Press & Assessment English and has been involved in English language education for 40 years.

Nick is Secretary-General of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE), on the Board of Trustees for The International Research Foundation (TIRF) for English Language Education, and is on the Management Committee of the Institute for Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA – University of Cambridge).

Before joining Cambridge in 1989, Nick taught at the University of Cagliari (Italy) and managed test development projects in Tokyo. He has a degree in Linguistics, an MA in TEFL and a PhD in language testing. His research interests include the development of models for investigating test impact; quality management systems in test development and validation; language assessment for migration and citizenship purposes; and Learning Oriented Assessment. Nick advises on issues related to multilingualism, language policy, and the role of English as a lingua franca, and he presents regularly at international events. Nick has published widely on issues related to language assessment and he is joint-series editor of Studies in Language Testing (CUP) which now has over 50 volumes in the series.

Find out more about Dr Nick Saville or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Why do the social sciences matter?

The social sciences are important for me as they enable the necessary interdisciplinary collaboration to address urgent and highly impactful challenges that face us today – and language and communication are central to this.

I have spent 40 years working in the field of language learning and assessment, but despite the ubiquity of language tests in many walks of life, language testing is often seen as a narrow and technical domain. It is not widely understood with regards to its societal effects and consequences.

I was honoured to have been proposed as a Fellow of the Academy by the UK Association of Language Testing and Assessment (UKALTA), which is a professional organisation that aims to provide a forum for the exchange of information and research on language testing and assessment in the UK. Along with other UKALTA members, I am keen to link our domain of knowledge and expertise to the wider social contexts in which language assessment takes place and reaching out to make better connections within the social sciences is a stated goal.

UKALTA has similarities with other international associations, such as ALTE for which I am the Secretary General and Cambridge English is a member. ALTE is an association of language test providers who work together to promote the fair and accurate assessment of linguistic ability across Europe and beyond. As part of ALTE’s multilingual mission, we seek to set standards for language assessment while seeking to have a positive impact on language learning and on multilingual policies. In so doing, recognising diversity and striving for fairness have been guiding principles.

Increasingly in recent years, though, we have broadened our engagement with stakeholders in society, especially politicians, policymakers, employers, and with other experts in the social sciences. This has extended our focus to encompass issues of social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Taken together these issues are nowadays represented by the memorable acronym JEDI. The use of language assessment in the context of migration and social integration is a good example of where these issues come to the fore.

What inspires you about your work?

I am passionate about the importance of learning and using languages in our lives. Central to my interest are the many diverse aspects of context, culture and communication that I encounter in my work. My work in Cambridge University Press and Assessment puts me at the interface between principles and practice – and this always provides fascinating challenges and I have been lucky enough to engage with many inspiring people in different sectors from all parts of the world.

What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?

Apart for the JEDI concepts that I have mentioned, I think the impact of climate change and sustainability need to be tackled with more urgency. The social impacts of global migration as a result of the changing climate are already being felt in our field and we need better and more integrated responses.

In addition, 2023 has been the ‘Year of AI’ – with the arrival of ChatGPT and Generative AI in the public domain. The pace of change and potential impacts on all walks of life mean that urgent responses are needed from social scientists to take advantage of the opportunities, to understand better the emerging risks and potentially negative impacts and consequences, and what we can do to overcome and/or address them.

What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?

It is a great honour to be a Fellow. Not only is it recognition of the contribution I have made over the years it also provides me with an opportunity for wider engagement with senior colleagues and peers to share our knowledge and experiences. In the case of language learning and assessment, I hope this will lead to wider awareness and understanding of what we do as academics and practitioners in our field.