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English Australia celebrates four decades

The peak body for the ELICOS sector in Australia has hit a milestone of 40 years in the international education industry this year.

English Australia appointed Brett Blacker as CEO in 2015. Photo: English Australia

Nine colleges formed an informal group of ELICOS providers that became The ELICOS Association in 1983

English Australia celebrated its 40th anniversary during the annual conference in Sydney from August 30 to September 1.

“The 40th anniversary marks a significant milestone for English Australia,” Brett Blacker, the association’s CEO said.

“The anniversary allows us to reflect on the significant impact and influence of the association on the ELICOS sector and international education landscape in Australia.”

In a report to mark four decades in the sector, the association detailed the development of the sector since Woods English Teaching Laboratory opened as Australia’s first English language school in 1965.

The paper pointed to the long history of English teaching in the country, including to migrants and refugees who arrived after World War Two, and then through the national Adult Migrant English Program from 1948. In the 1970s, AMEP was professionalised with federal government funding to “better deliver ELT to the huge influx of refugees from South-East Asia”, it added.

Nine colleges formed an informal group of ELICOS providers that became The ELICOS Association in 1983.

Sue Blundell, who retired as executive director of English Australia in 2015, spoke at the gathering in Sydney, highlighting the contribution of Christine Bundesen, who was the second convener of The ELICOS Association in 1988.

Christine passed away in September 2022.

“It somehow doesn’t seem right to have a major English Australia celebration without Christine Bundesen – we miss her – her memories, her history, her storytelling, her humour,” Blundell said.

Compared to now, the industry was the “Wild West before they gave sheriffs badges and guns”, she said, noting how the sector had overcome challenges such as the so-called China crisis.

The 40-year report noted the crisis as a “pivotal moment for the ELICOS sector and English Australia”, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the National ELICOS Accreditation Scheme.

“We were a role model that other associations looked to follow”

“I had my own personal experience of the boom then bust nature of the industry at this time – my school, the largest in Australia, closed, the owner heading overseas after declaring bankruptcy,” Blundell said.

“There were so many ways in which we were leaders and we were a role model that other associations looked to follow – in our professional development and support, in our lobbying and advocacy, in our collection and analysis of data, in our perpetual striving to constantly do things better and support our members more.”

Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA, agreed noting that English Australia has “proven to others how a professional peak body can operate”.

“Forty years ago they filled a need for effective representation,” he said. “They have also flourished through the dedication of volunteer directors and two outstanding CEOs in Sue Blundell and Brett Blacker.”

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