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Student experience central to English Australia dialogues

Australia’s ELICOS representative body, English Australia, called for a renewed focus on the international student experience during its annual conference in Hobart, Australia this month.

Tasmania Governor Kate Warner opened the English Australia conference urging delegates to provide a great service to international students. Photo: The PIE News

"There is confusion between what an institution is believed to do and what it does"

Tasmania Governor Kate Warner used her opening plenary address to set the tone of the event, saying: “We can only feel comfortable using international students to fund our industry if we are providing a great service.”

Warner cited safety concerns, particularly largely unreported cases of domestic and sexual violence against female students, as an area in which Australia’s industry needed to step up and accept more responsibility for prevention.

Safety concerns is an area in which Australia’s international education industry needs to accept more responsibility for prevention

Warner’s comments were seconded by Marc Weedon-Newstead, group executive education at UNSW Global, who during his closing plenary told delegates her speech highlighted the need for educators to focus on improving both the positive and negative aspects of the student experience.

The comments follow a shift both within Australia and abroad to improve the student experience, said i-graduate’s Australasian director of client services, Kevin Brett.

During his presentation on the results from the English Language Barometer, Brett said the industry was only now beginning to appreciate the importance of positive student experiences.

His presentation, which compared data from 2009 to 2016, showed while the Australian English language sector has created a generally high level of student satisfaction, there are areas in which providers should be mindful.

In particular, the data identified underlying demands from international students to connect with their domestic counterparts as well as the broader community, and a need for institutions to provide accurate marketing materials.

“There is confusion between what an institution is believed to do and what it does,” Brett said, warning inaccurate information that promises too much can be to the detriment of the student.

Pointing to lower i-graduate survey completion rates at some institutions, he also urged providers to “close the feedback loop” and share survey results with students to include them in the process.

Meanwhile, Prashanth Magandram, national welfare officer of the Council of International Students Australia, reminded delegates that “international students need to be valued and involved.”

Addressing student welfare and services, Magandram highlighted the importance of institutions understanding cultural differences and making students aware certain attitudes around issues, such as modesty, may differ significantly between countries.

“International students need to be valued and involved”

The 29th English Australia Conference attracted more than 300 delegates from throughout the sector. Delayed visa processing after Australia switched to the Simplified Student Visa Framework was also among top concerns expressed by attendees.

Delays have been particularly hard-felt by the ELICOS sector, with follow-on concerns over whether students using an ELICOS provider as a pathway into university have enough time to improve their English before starting a degree programme.

EA CEO Brett Blacker said the organisation has worked closely with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to clear a backlog of visa applications caused by an unprecedentedly high number of applications for the old Streamlined Visa Processing immediately before the new system came into play. He assuaged concerns, saying he believed the current delays were a one time event.

To most delegates’ knowledge, affected students eventually received their visa in time for the start of their English course.

Still, many added only time will tell as to the magnitude of the ramifications from the delays and whether the sector will lose ground after several years of sustained growth.

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