Posting on the English Australia website, Brett Blacker explained that the association of English language schools had written directly to Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison on March 22, requesting the provision of a rescue package totalling AUD$87 million.
“As a sector 100% reliant on foreign nationals the impact is clear. We need support and we need it now”
He said the package consists of eight points including concessional loans for eligible ELICOS businesses; grants for businesses to provide courses online; payroll assistance grants; and a sector support payment to help English Australia support members, business owners and students.
It also includes a request for a waiver of student visa fees and the removal of Austrade service fees to access data and marketing assistance.
Blacker said he has also held discussions with senior officials for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment related to the requests.
“As a sector 100% reliant on foreign nationals the impact is clear. Our message is clear. We need support and we need it now,” explained Blacker.
Ian Pratt, the managing director of Lexis English which has six centres in Australia and employs 330 people, told The Australian the business had suffered “massive cancellations”.
Pratt would not estimate how long the business could hold out, but he said the private part of the English tuition sector was facing extinction in a matter of weeks.
“Industry-wide, I’m hearing people saying two weeks, I’m hearing people say six weeks,” he said, adding that it would not be easy to restore the industry after a collapse.
“We have very highly trained staff and, when we lose them, it’s going to be spectacularly difficult getting them back,” he said.
Despite many countries introducing school closures as a means of slowing the spread of coronavirus, schools in Australia are not currently required to close.
“I spoke with senior officials at DESE, who confirmed that education is considered an essential service and therefore colleges may remain open,” Blacker said, adding that all colleges need to comply with requirements for closing if a case of COVID-19 is identified.
He said that colleges may choose to teach remotely “if this is deemed the most appropriate action in your circumstances”.
“DESE has also confirmed that colleges can deliver courses to students that are not in Australia if circumstances require. Colleges will need to follow the advice that has been previously provided… and [ensure] the learning outcomes can be achieved,” Blacker added.
“When we lose [the staff] it’s going to be spectacularly difficult getting them back”
He noted that the Department of Home Affairs has not yet advised on visa processing and whether it is still processing visas since the ban was imposed on all foreign traveller from entering Australia as of March 20.
“I have already stressed my view that they must continue to process visas to ensure we are in a position to recover in the future,” Blacker continued.
“We face the greatest challenge that our sector has ever faced, but our sector is incredibly capable and resilient.
“English Australia will do everything in its power to make sure that our sector survives,” he added.
Earlier in 2020, DESE released a snapshot of international students who studied ELICOS as part of a study pathway, with figures showing mixed results for the sector in 2019.