Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia, speaking at the conference
English Australia Conference focuses on quality and regulation
English Australia held its 30th annual conference in the city of Adelaide in South Australia, with sessions focusing on teacher quality, updates to ELICOS sector regulation, and Australia's positioning in the current global ELT world.

Opening the conference on September 21, 2017, Dr Susan Carland urged the 320 participants to carve out a place for international students in Australia and to help them find a valid alternative Australian identity, which adds and doesn't take away from their own identity.


"How far can Australia's metaphorical border stretch? How can we make everyone feel welcome?" asked Dr Carland. She added that in the classroom, teachers should find admirable, diverse figures in their storytelling and that students should be encouraged to use their imagination.


Elsewhere, Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia, led a session about the trends in Australia's ELICOS sector and a global ELT comparison using figures from StudentMarketing and the Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations (GAELA) presentation prior to ST Alphe UK, among other sources.


As reported in StudyTravel Magazine in July this year, there were 173,506 international students on ELICOS programmes in Australia in 2016, and Brett noted that both Australia and New Zealand had "bucked the trend" of decline in the ELT world, mainly driven by decreases in the USA and UK.


"[Australia looks] rather good in a declining market place," said Brett. However, he cautioned that Australia was not immune to the political and economic impacts happening elsewhere, and if there were changes in its large, reliable source markets - China, Japan, Brazil and Colombia - it could have a huge influence on the ELICOS sector.


"We are highly volatile in terms of our reliance on China; probably not more so than other countries as it's a shared phenomenon across the globe," Brett told ST Magazine. "But we are highly exposed to the extent that 22 per cent of all of our English language students are from China, so any shift in government policy would have a very significant impact."


Speaking about potential future growth markets to ST Magazine, Brett said, "I do think that Italy and Spain are two particular countries, and perhaps even Germany to some extent, that we may see a future growth out of some of the conditions that are currently created through Brexit.


"Europe increased last year in terms of its overall market proportion in Australia as well, going up to 14 per cent market share. We haven't tended in Australia to attract a lot of the junior market, and from Italy and Spain, a lot of that's come through the short-term standalone areas.


"We're also seeing some positive results out of some other places - the Czech Republic is going quite well - and for some schools even Poland has been okay. But I think Europe in total there is certainly a lot of interest at the moment and maybe with the view of what's happening in the other markets, some will take a closer lens [over there] as well."


The conference also featured sessions on regulation updates to the sector. Updates to the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students, which come into effect from January 1, 2018, give greater attention to younger learner welfare. There will also be an imminent update to the ELICOS Standards, which draw attention to the needs of younger students and assessment of teachers and staff, which had not yet been released during the conference.


In his ministerial address, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, thanked and recognised the strong reputation of the ELICOS sector, and added that international education in the financial year 2016/17 contributed an estimated AUS$22 billion to the economy and supported more than 130,000 jobs.


"As Australia's third largest export overall, it now makes an enormous contribution to our economic prosperity, including particularly in parts of regional Australia," said Minister Birmingham. "ELICOS plays a significant role in that - often, perhaps, an under-recognised role - through its English language teaching, and by preparing students for further study in Australia.


"The latest enrolment data from the first six months of this year show ELICOS enrolments by those on student visas are up by seven per cent on the same period of last year."


Minister Birmingham added that the introduction of the Simplified Student Visa Framework (SSVF) in July 2016 had a positive effect on the international education sector. "The reforms have reduced the number of student visas from seven to one, and made the visa arrangements for student simpler by streamlining evidentially requirements," he said.


Other sessions at the conference included talks from authors JJ Wilson and Lindsay Clandfield; a panel discussion on women in leadership in ELICOS; and The GrEAt Debate, in which two sides argued for and against the statement 'Social networks are not real communities'.


In his closing remarks, Brett reflected on the sense of community and wonderful, positive vibe over the two-day conference.


Next year's event will take place in Sydney at the Sofitel Wentworth from September 19-21, 2018.


By Georgina Deacon
Staff Journalist