Australia’s minister for education and youth, Alan Tudge, opened the event last week, where he acknowledged an incredibly hard 18 months for the ELICOS sector, and stated it had been “hit as hard as any part of our economy”.

“We are getting perilously close to hitting those key vaccination targets of 70% and 80%”

ELICOS “enrolments are down 70% compared to where they were in 2019”, he noted.

“We are getting perilously close to hitting those key vaccination targets of 70% and 80%,” Tudge explained. “That’s when the economy opens and the international borders can be more open, including for international students which are specifically mentioned in the national plan.”

Vaccine certificates can be linked to passports in order to know the vaccination status of the people making their way into Australia, he added.

The minister further said that the government had tried to really get behind the ELICOS sector and support it over the last 18 months, with “dedicated funding and support”, including the Innovation Fund for the sector, in addition to the broader business support such as JobKeeper, put in place by government.

The sector is a “key part of our society in terms of educating people who come into this country in particular, building up their skills for further study, and of course many of those go on and become great Australians”, he stated.

The 2021 English Australia Conference – themed ‘360 degrees: reflections, transformations and new perspectives’ – was entirely a virtual affair, with nearly 800 delegates and over 70 speakers engaging in insightful discussions online, over more than 40 sessions spread over an entire week.

Other key points that came through the discussions during the conference included Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA, calling for a need for high quality international students to fill in the STEM related skills-gap in the Australian job market. More migration pathways are needed to support them, he posited.

Eliza Chui, international education special project lead at Austrade highlighted the action plan for the department’s marketing and promotions agenda for international education towards rebuilding the sector once borders re-open.

It should involve a three stage process: Recovery, Renewal, Resilience. She mentioned that in a Covid-19 normal world students might have the option of diversifying their study trajectory, with opportunities to study at home, in Australia, or from a third country.

Austrade will lead the industry’s initiatives to make international students feel safer and more welcome in Australia and is in the process of introducing an Alumni Series to facilitate this, she added.

The department will also look at market diversification beyond India and China to build long term sustainability. She also highlighted the initiatives being undertaken by the government under the Study Australia platform, including the recently launched New Study Australia Employability Hub.

One of the main highlights of the conference was the session on Student Voices, in which both onshore and offshore students talked about their experiences and the challenges faced by them during these times of the pandemic.

Brett Blacker, English Australia CEO gave the concluding remarks at the close of the conference and echoed the optimism espoused by the minister at the beginning, by giving the analogy of the English language fraternity being on the runway, with the need to now fill the plane up with ELICOS students, once the borders re-open.

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