Australian VET providers surprised by ELICOS regulation decision

Australian providers are preparing for an end to the delivery of English programs with VET-accreditation after the Australian Skills Quality Authority issued a notice of their intention to ban these courses due to conflicts between vocational and ELICOS standards.

The decision comes in response to the new ELICOS standards, implemented on 1 January this year, which redefined ELICOS programs to also cover English courses delivered by vocational providers, in an attempt to remove inequalities around how courses were run.

Under the 2018 Standards, an ELICOS program is now defined as “solely or predominantly of English-language instruction”, replacing a previous definition that it was an intensive English-language instruction course with at least 20 contact hours per week.

Due to differences between VET’s competency-based assessment and ELICOS’ academic-based assessment, however, ASQA has mooted the cancellation all VET-accredited English courses, requiring providers reregister their programs as non-award to enable them to adhere to the ELICOS standards 2018.

“When delivering a course in English-language instruction to overseas students, a provider is unable to comply with both Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015 and the ELICOS Standards 2018 due to fundamental pedagogical differences between the two frameworks,” the regulator said in a statement.

Additionally, differences in requirements such as class sizes, delivery modes, teacher qualifications and resources mean providers can not adhere to both standards.

English Australia CEO, Brett Blacker told The PIE News his organisation was surprised by the sudden announcement.

“There were providers that were historically teaching accredited English courses but also adhering to the ELICOS Standards. Regardless, those providers are cancelled as well,” he said.

“These high-quality providers just didn’t see this coming, because they felt they were already compliant with the ELICOS Standards.”

Blacker, who worked on the revised ELICOS Standards, said that the intention was to create a level playing field for all ELICOS providers in regard to contact hours and class size amongst other factors, but he did not foresee this regulatory approach.

While this appears to be an unintended consequence, Blacker said he understood the decision.

“We’re not the regulator and do not have the expertise to know how the various Acts can be monitored and adhered to, but English Australia sought consistency in the regulatory approach to ensure high-quality outcomes for all ELICOS students, but not for the end of accredited courses.”

Robert Parsonson, organiser of education agent symposium Sympled, said the decision closed a final loophole for some unscrupulous providers, who were intentionally using vocational delivery to skirt around ELICOS requirements.

By purposefully delivering courses with less than 20 contact hours, many providers created a cyclical argument in which they said they were not, by definition, ELICOS.

“ASQA has flagged that they’re concentrating on international colleges this year,” he said, adding “in a public way that ASQA is trying to rebuild quality in that ELICOS sector.”

While he also welcomed the decision, he said the announcement could have been more public, but conceded there were likely issues that the was a minor update on ASQA’s website.

“I guess they also don’t really want to highlight the fact that there is, I think, quite severe quality problems with RTOs that were teaching ELICOS,” he said.

The ELICOS sector represents Australia’s third largest source of enrolments, behind higher education and VET.

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