English language colleges: we will miss them when they’re gone

ELICOS is the canary in the international education coal mine. COVID-19 is making it sick


 The coverage COVID-19 has focused on universities due to the scale of their operations and loss of international-student income, but the impact on ELICOS is huge.

ELICOS is the canary in the coal mine for international education – its students track through to other sectors.

The immediate problem is for the independent ELICOS providers that typically cater to thousands of people, many not on student visas, from countries that are now subject to Australian travel restrictions. Over 70 per cent of ELICOS enrolments from Japan, Korea, and Italy are not on student visas. Independent providers operate in highly competitive markets with small margins. COVID-19 has significantly reduced their current and future bookings and many long-standing operations will close.

Already, providers are reducing staffing levels to stay in business. As such, many teachers and associated staff in this highly casualised workforce have no income.

Closures in the ELICOS sector will have a huge impact, with a quarter of all international higher education students and nearly a third of all international vocational education and training students utilising ELICOS before commencing their tertiary studies.

Not only will this impact future tertiary numbers but closures will limit the capacity of the international education sector to bounce back and will damage our reputation as a global leader. This is a huge set-back at the start for the new English Language Teaching International Engagement Strategy 2025.

ELICOS peak body English Australia is calling for federal government assistance for the sector – it’s needed and needed now.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent