May 2011 issue

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Learning English in Australian Tafes

Many Technical and Further Education (Tafe) institutions offer English language tuition to international students planning further study. Despite student numbers suffering a decline in Australia recently, some Tafes are bucking the trend.

The vocational education and English language sectors in Australia suffered a decline in international student numbers in 2010 yet Tafes in some areas of Australia report that numbers are on the rise.

Larissa Salinas from NMIT in Collingwood, VIC, says the fact that Tafes are funded by state governments means that they are more secure than many private providers in the country; the highly publicised closures of some providers in the last few years have dented international student confidence in the country as an English language destination, she says. “NMIT has built a reputation of offering quality education and training since it was first established in 1912 and is funded by the Victorian government,” says Salinas. “This means that NMIT [is unlikely to] close down – something to consider when researching private language schools.”

Small class sizes, when compared with university English language programmes, a clear educational progression pathway and the ability to mix with other Australian students while on campus are also big attractions for international students choosing to study English at a Tafe. Salinas adds, “NMIT’s Elicos [English language] programme has grown from strength to strength and continued to maintain popularity over the last few years. Despite changes in the Australian international education industry, NMIT’s Elicos programme is still hugely popular.”

Changes to Australia’s visa system during 2010 have had a drastic effect on the country’s international student population, with the English language sector down by 16 per cent between 2009 and 2010 and the vocational sector down by 11 per cent over the same period. Yet, some Tafes report that international enrolments have proved to be resilient, as Vicki Blaxell from Gold Coast Institute of Tafe notes. She adds, “Gold Coast Institute of Tafe is the largest public provider in the Gold Coast region, a government owned statutory body and a registered training organisation. Being part of the vocational and education and training system means that Gold Coast Institute of Tafe is innovative and delivers customised training products and services.”

Last year, key student markets for the vocational sector declined in numbers slightly with Indian students dipping by five per cent and Chinese student numbers down by 34 per cent. Yet Elicos providers at Australian Tafes report a wide variety of student markets that have remained strong in recent years. Salinas identifies 15 top nationalities for their English language programmes, including China, Vietnam, Brazil, India, Thailand and Venezuela, while Blaxell points out that 70 per cent of their English students are made up of Japanese, Saudi Arabian, Korean and Chinese. “[Other countries] include France, Libya, Russia, India, New Caledonia, Vietnam, Ecuador and Brazil,” she adds.

For many international students, the ability to enrol on a further Tafe or university course after an initial English course is a key part of a Tafe’s appeal and students may even be offered a place on a mainstream course on the condition that they take an Elicos course first. Salinas confirms, “Often students who do not meet the English requirements for direct entry into NMIT’s programmes may undertake Elicos prior to the commencement of their principal course.”

Due to the academic intentions of many of the students who study English at Tafe institutions, many offer a variety of exam preparation programmes and can tailor their courses to meet the vocational demands of students. Kate Ross from the Tafe NSW Elicos centres in seven location across New South Wales says, “[We offer] Certificate three English for Further Studies (EFS) and Certificate four English for Academic Purposes (EAP). [We also offer] Certificates one and two Esol and study tours can meet the demands of clients who require English for specific purposes eg. English for nursing.”

Overall, Elicos programmes in Australian Tafes offer international students a secure basis from which to develop their future academic ambitions and are likely to remain popular in the future.

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