English language course providers that enable international students’ entry into the Australian education system will be probed by the regulator to ensure they are complying with strengthened standards.
Amid ongoing concern about the standards in Australia’s booming international education sector, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will later this year audit the more than 50 providers of English language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS).
The providers will be scrutinised for their compliance with national standards that were tightened from 2018, requiring proper measures to demonstrate students’ outcomes are adequate for the higher education programs they are entering.
Providers have indicated they are ramping up efforts to comply with the changes ahead of the regulator’s reaccreditation project.
“As part of this, the agency will systematically go through provider by provider (and there are about 55 providers that offer ELICOS courses) and will be assessing those courses against the strengthened ELICOS national
standards,” the spokeswoman said.
Australia’s international education market has boomed over recent years, growing 14 per cent in 2018. Last year, about 400,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities, pumping $34 billion into the economy.
The explosive growth has led to concerns about foreign students being treated as cash cows, the impact on teaching standards, and potential complications stemming from the heavy reliance on Chinese students.
Brett Blacker, chief executive of English Australia, a peak body representing the ELICOS providers, said there were no systemic issues on English standards in international education.
“That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of issues or areas that need to improve. Any measures that are taken to ensure the quality of the sector are welcomed,” Mr Blacker said.
“The reaccreditation project, I expect that it is going to validate that the regulations are working effectively.”
He conceded that, given ongoing concerns about the issue, there was an “onus for measures to be taken which support the student experience for all students”.
Amanda Muller, a senior lecturer responsible for student language development at Flinders University, said the tightening of ELICOS standards was “entirely needed” and it was to be expected that TEQSA was now ensuring compliance.
“Rather than each ELICOS provider setting their own private standards, now they have to show that their tests are valid, what criteria the students are meeting, and that there is some form of benchmarking going on to other related pathways,” Dr Muller said.
She said there was pressure on providers to produce results for their customers in the smallest amount of time possible.
“So it puts pressure on responsible ELICOS providers who genuinely are trying to get students very proficient in English versus ones who are more interested in selling the more popular shorter courses,” she said.
The government is currently considering further measures to tighten rules around language standards.
Following the introduction of the stricter ELICOS standards, Education Minister Dan Tehan has sought advice on applying similar rules to academic foundation courses that provide foreign students with another pathway into higher education.
TEQSA has also recommended universities be forced to “record, in detail, the basis on which a student met the required English language entry standard”.
Dr Muller backed the ideas, saying it was important for academic foundation courses to face tighter rules and that improved data collection was key to quality.
“Currently, if a university does not have full detailed records of how a student established their English proficiency, we can’t detect problematic demographics, providers, and pathways,” she said.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald