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Richard Brown, BROWNS English

BROWNS English will celebrate its 20 year anniversary in 2023. Founder and managing director Richard Brown spoke to The PIE about how the school has developed over the past two decades, opportunities in online hybrid learning models and how Australia’s ELICOS sector may look to recover from the pandemic.


"The data definitely suggests that the ELICOS sector has been the hardest hit and I think it was the earliest to be affected"

The PIE: How was BROWNS founded? 

Richard Brown: We started the school in 2003 and we started the campus on the Gold Coast. I grew up on the Gold Coast and after doing a lot of international travel, after graduating from university, I came across an English language school on my travels.

I was actually learning Spanish on my travels — I drove down all the way from the US to Costa Rica. I came across some language schools throughout my journey through Central and South America. I had a passion for learning languages and learning about other cultures and different cuisines — that kind of set the scene for the beginning of my career in international education.

“We try and take the learning outside the classroom by integrating students with the local environment”

After travelling around the world for 12 months throughout Central and South America and across Europe and Asia, the idea for the school was born through these travels. I thought it would be a good idea to start the school on the Gold Coast — I think it’s a beautiful place to study and learn, with a great lifestyle, culture, warm and friendly people, as well as great weather.

The PIE: BROWNS comes across as a school that offers much more than its courses and the location seems to offer students a more complete study experience.

RB: Exactly. We look at BROWNS as much more than its course offerings — we want our students to be able to immerse themselves in the full experience of learning and growth in this wonderful location. We want them to grow academically and emotionally through experiential learning.

We try and take the learning outside the classroom by integrating them with the local environment and the people, so then it’s not only more enjoyable for the students, but we believe that it has allowed us to fast-track students’ learning and progress to achieve their English language learning goals more quickly.

The PIE: The English + Whale conservation courses sound really exciting. Any plans of expanding the environmental attachment to other activities, such as the Great Barrier Reef exploration and other national parks exploration as well?

RB: Absolutely. We are very proactive at helping and educating students about environmental issues and having a positive impact on improving the quality of the environment in Australia, as it’s a national treasure — the ocean, the marine life, the whales and dolphins, and the animals. That’s where we are doing a lot of work, partnering with different local not for profit organisations and conservation organisations. So, we are trying to help students appreciate different wildlife species that we have here in Australia, with a vision to be able to contribute towards the monitoring, research, and protection of marine and wildlife species.

The PIE: Can you give us a snapshot of the course offerings at BROWNS? How many students do you cater to annually and what are your major source countries?

RB: Most of our courses are on Intensive General English. These courses are full-time and fast-track students into achieving their English language learning goals. So, most students start with an Intensive General English course and then they might progress onto other courses. A lot of students might progress onto academic courses, particularly if they are interested in going onto one of our many different university pathways or [enrolling with our] vocational pathway partners.

“The government has started to engage more with industry to learn about what changes need to take place”

BROWNS is renowned for its academic quality and helping students achieve their academic learning goals. Often the majority of international students start their journey by learning English and then go on to further studies so, we have some amazing institutional partners in universities including Griffith University, Central Queensland University, Southern Cross University, and Bond University.

Then, we have institutional partnerships for students going onto pathways to schools. We have students who go onto high schools and primary schools and we partner with more than 100 different government and non-government schools.

We have students from more than 50 different nationalities studying with us. And, we have 3,000-5,000 students come through our school every year. These students then go and immerse themselves into the community, and many go onto stay in Australia.

The PIE: BROWNS has won many awards and accolades in the past. What sets it apart from other providers in the sector?

RB: We have always concentrated on quality and we have never compromised on it. And, we have made lots of sacrifices to ensure that we stay true to our values. That’s allowed us to build our brand and our reputation — and that has [in turn] allowed us to attract amazing staff and amazing institutional partners and an incredibly broad agent network. Some of our agent partners have been there for nearly 20 years and have been with us from 2003 in this journey.

It’s all comes down to quality. That’s where we have always concentrated on being the highest quality provider that we can be and to have the continuous improvement philosophy. And, one of the things that does separate us, is that we have been recognised by both industry and government, as a leading premier English language provider. So, we were recognised as the recipient of the International Education Training Award, which is the most prestigious award that you can win in the Australian International Education [sector]. And, we won the award at both the state and the national levels.

“What’s incredibly encouraging is that enquiries are already back to pre-Covid levels”

We are a value driven and purpose driven company. And, that’s allowed people to come on this journey with us and we have created this movement of high quality international education in Australia — that’s allowed us to also grow our contribution to the community and to society.

The PIE: Is BROWNS planning to expand to other parts of Australia and the world, given it has a global vision?

RB: Yes, we have expansion plans in place. Pre-Covid, it was all about how we can expand BROWNS, how we can have a greater impact, and continue our purpose and our strategic vision to connect minds and transform lives with people from around the world. So, we are looking at national as well as international expansion. Particularly, with all the excitement now with the online learning platform — the BROWNS Virtual, which is our online learning program, for students who can’t make it [in person] or [for those who] prefer a hybrid solution to learning online and then potentially completing the remainder of their course, face to face, at one of our amazing campuses in Queensland.

The PIE: Do you think the constraints on the online delivery of courses, negatively impacted the ELICOS sector during the pandemic?

RB: I think that, actually, there are some upsides to Covid, and at Browns we always look at how we can see an opportunity in any challenge. And, one of the catalysts, because of Covid, is actually a lot of more review and scrutiny around the policies that sit within our ELICOS sector. I think that it is inevitable that there is change and that change will actually be more supportive of online hybrid learning models, with the regulator also coming in support of our industry’s innovation and sustainability.

So, I see it as something that’s inevitable and the government has awakened to this change and has started to engage more with industry to learn about what changes need to take place, to keep the international education sector in Australia at the forefront — as we have [already] lost some territory to other [competitor] countries, because their borders have opened sooner — and so I think the students’ learning needs and desires have evolved and we will need to make sure that our policies and the regulator support innovation and sustainability within our sector.

The PIE: Given the setback the sector has faced during the nearly two years of the pandemic, how do you see it recovering?

RB: The data definitely suggests that the ELICOS sector has been the hardest hit and I think it was the earliest to be affected, because students were coming from offshore and after they finished their ELICOS program, then they would be transferring onto further studies.

“ELICOS will be the first sector to recover and rebound”

Unfortunately, it has been incredibly challenging time for those in the ELICOS sector, but there is an enormous amount of resilience that has been built over this period, that’s going to serve us well with the reopening. What’s exciting is [that], despite the ELICOS sector being the earliest and the hardest to be hit, it will be the first sector to recover and rebound, as majority of international students start their study abroad experience with the English language. What’s [also] incredibly encouraging is that enquiries are already back to pre-Covid levels and new applications [have already started] coming in.

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