Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, speaking at the English Australia conference last month
Australia launches updated ELICOS standards

The Australian government has unveiled an updated set of standards for the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) sector this week, with industry peak bodies issuing a joint statement refuting media reports that a new test is required for students transitioning to tertiary study under the rules.

The ELICOS National Standards 2018, announced by Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, at the Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) this week, centre around nine core areas, including contact hours, the needs of young learners, assessment, teaching and business management. Addressing delegates, Minister Birmingham said the new standards "boost the quality, the reputation of our English language providers".


Amongst the changes to the standards are provisions that when students are transitioning from ELICOS to a further course of study, "formal measures must be in place to ensure that assessment outcomes are comparable to other criteria used for admission to the tertiary education course of study".


In his speech, Minister Birmingham said, "Many would be surprised to learn that under the current system students can transition from an ELICOS course to further study without any mandatory assessment of their language skills. It's clear that we need better standards, more scrutiny in the system.


"So the new standards will make it compulsory for students to be assessed on their pathway into other tertiary education courses, to ensure they have the right level of English language skills to succeed."


Brett Blacker, CEO of language school sector peak body English Australia and an integral figure in the drafting of the new standards, advised that the assessment point had been misreported in the local press.


"There has been some misinterpretation of the new standards, which implied a deficit in the English proficiency of students currently entering Australian tertiary qualifications. I uphold that the Australian ELICOS sector is highly recognised globally for our course accreditation processes and the quality of educational delivery with a low prevalence of compliance issues, and the sector has been well served by the standards to date."


English Australia has today issued a joint communique with eight other industry peak bodies, clarifying the new arrangements: "Some media reports mistakenly suggested a new test is required as part of these new standards. There is no requirement for further standardised testing under the ELICOS National Standards 2018.


"Testing is only one form of assessment that may be considered, and education providers will still set their own English language requirements for entry to their courses. Crucially, also, the revised standards do not change the existing visa requirements to study in Australia - nor the pathways to further study," the group said.


In a circular to member schools, Brett said that there was additional scope for regulators to seek evidence that formal measures are in place to validate assessment outcomes for direct entry, but that these could be demonstrated through various methods, including industry benchmarking.


Another key change in the new framework is that ELICOS standards will be extended to VET providers. Minister Birmingham said, "That means for the first time ELICOS study via VET courses will require particular teacher qualifications, as is the case elsewhere, set out with a minimum of 20 face-to-face contact hours, and a maximum teacher-to-student ratio of one to 18."


English Australia welcomed this amendment, which it said it had long been calling for. "The changes announced today will ensure that all providers of courses to international students where the outcome is solely or predominantly English language will need to adhere to the standards, and that is a positive step in ensuring a level playing field for all providers," noted Brett.


In the joint statement, the industry associations said, "This step has been supported by all peak education bodies as yet another quality measure to ensure students get the most from their education in Australia."


Brett added, "Australia has always been at the forefront in regard to legislation to support quality in English language teaching, and the ELICOS National Standards are the cornerstone of our sector's quality assurance framework, with the new standards upholding that tradition."


The full list of ELICOS standards, which come into effect in January 2018, is available on the English Australia website.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor