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Mixed reception to new ELICOS benchmarks

A new set of ELICOS benchmarks, to ensure international students have appropriate English competency and don’t “slip through the cracks” when transitioning into higher levels of education, has been announced by education and training minister Simon Birmingham at the Australian International Education Conference.

Education minister Simon Birmingham announced the new policy at AIEC in Hobart.Education minister Simon Birmingham announced the new policy at AIEC in Hobart. Photo: The PIE News

"There is no political agenda behind this. It's a normal consequential flow of changes after an act of parliament"

The change will see the introduction of a mandatory assessment standard for all international students going through pathways, effectively forcing all English courses delivered in Australia to adhere to ELICOS standards.

“What we hear from TEQSA is that too many students are slipping through the cracks”

Currently, some pathway programs and courses delivered via diploma must only meet the standards set out by their regulatory body, so students can complete a course without proving acquired English skills and transition onwards.

“This should give absolute confidence to international students wanting to come to Australia, that… they’ll get the English language skills they need, and then be able to transition into a high quality educational experience at a higher education or vocational education institution,” Birmingham told The PIE News.

“What we hear from TEQSA, from other students and their families, from concerned employers, from [IEAA] and others is that too many students are slipping through the cracks.”

But while the new benchmarks are intended to ensure the integrity of Australia’s international education industry, the reception to the minister’s announcement has been mixed.

Several Australian media outlets have already begun reporting the change will “put providers on notice” and some AIEC delegates have expressed confusion as to the policy’s implications.

Consequentially, some delegates have noted that the policy may be received negatively, as a signal that there is currently a systemic problem with Australian English language training which needs to be rectified.

English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker, who helped created the new benchmarks, said this was not an overhaul but a shoring up of current standards.

“For the most part, most high quality providers across Australia would already be adhering to the requirements that are in the assessment standard. I think it needs to be looked in the lens of: there’ll be potentially a small number of operators that will need to look at how their processes are in place,” he said.

Blacker told The PIE News that the move was something that EA had been lobbying for for some time.

“This is another step to ensure quality moving forward, versus an obvious and significant issue [of fraudulent behaviour] that’s prevalent right now. All moves that ensure quality are welcomed, and I’m very confident that the majority of the sector will welcome the initiatives,” he added.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA, which also helped create the standards, reiterated Blacker’s comments calling the change an opportunity for a higher level of transparency within the ELICOS sector.

“We’ve got a lot of feedback from the sector that quality providers are doing the right thing, but we’re getting a lack of quality provision in some situations to students who then find it hard to progress on to a higher level of qualification,” he said.

Honeywood said the timing of the announcement was “a natural flow” after changes to Australia’s ESOS Act and National Code for international students, one of the world’s only parliamentary acts on quality assurance, earlier this year.

“There is no political agenda behind this. It’s a normal consequential flow of changes after an act of parliament,” he said, adding he expected further changes to foundation and transition program standards in due course.

“I think that the vast majority of providers are at the [new standards’] level, but it doesn’t hurt to remind those quality providers that there’s expectations from government and the sector about maintaining those standards.”

Of those who studied the English language courses in Australia last year, more than 60,000 went on to further study, mainly in higher education or vocational courses.

  • Additional reporting by Patrick Atack

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