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Australia’s ELT industry “on the edge of a cliff”

A month after the Australian government released a strategy to make Australia the “destination of choice” for international English language students, industry association English Australia wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison requesting an AU $87 million rescue package.

“We’re on the edge of the cliff and facing potentially widespread closure,” Chief Executive of English Australia, Brett Blacker, told the Australian edition of The Guardian newspaper on 25 March.

Following the government decision to close the country’s border to non-citizens, language schools were continuing to teach those students who were completing their courses but, “are facing the fact they’re going to have no students to teach in the very near future – we’re talking weeks,” he added.

The coronavirus pandemic has dogged the government’s ambitious plans for English language teaching from the beginning. The 14-page English Language Teaching International Engagement Strategy 2025 document appeared immediately after Australia banned flights arriving from China due to coronavirus.

At the time of writing, schools had not been ordered to close in most Australian states, but many universities had opted to deliver courses online, with many language schools following suit. Milner International College in Perth, for example, announced it would move to online teaching only on 30 March.

Ironically, the government strategy identified teaching online as one of the business opportunities for the English language courses sector, along with, “the design and delivery of English language curricula abroad and teacher training initiatives.”

A total of 180,000 international students took English courses in 2018 in Australia’s language colleges, schools, vocational institutes or universities, either as a stand-alone course or as a pathway to further study in the country, according to the strategy document. The sector, which employs some 10,000 people, brings in an average of AU $2.4 billion a year. Strategy 2025 cites surveys showing a 90 per cent satisfaction rate among Australia’s English language students.

Among the proposed target outcomes are “continually growing” student satisfaction and more “benchmarking of the student experience”. The document also notes that Australian ELT comes with a high level of quality assurance, backed by legislation.

Other targets of the strategy include greater support to ensure “seamless transition” for students who’ve completed an English language course, and progress to further study. Seventy per cent of language school students go on to some kind of further education, according to Blacker.

“In terms of the wider education industry, we’re often seen as a canary in the coalmine,” he said. “Historically, when there’s dips for us it flows into other sectors, but at the moment we’re looking at a total wipeout unless we can provide support.”


Image courtesy of Library
Matt Salusbury
Matt Salusbury
MATT SALUSBURY, news editor and journalist, has worked for EL Gazette since 2007. He is also joint Chair of the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists and co-edits its newsletter, the Freelance. He taught English language for 15 years in the Netherlands, in Turkey, in a North London further education college and now as an English for Academic Purposes tutor, most recently at the London School of Economics. He is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Dutch.
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