Present tense

International students return

After 18 months of bad news, finally a ray of hope! On 22 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that some international students will be allowed to return from 1 December [at press time pushed back to 15 December owing to the Omicron virus variant]. Initially this will be limited to existing student visa holders, but perhaps these numbers will ramp up during 2022, which will hopefully bring the industry back from the brink.

There is little doubt that 2021 has been one of the toughest years for the international student sector in Australia, even harder than 2020. Last year, there was probably the hope that the crisis would be relatively short-lived, and that students would start to come back in 2021, but as we now know, that has not been the case.

Multiple colleges have closed their doors for good, as many again have gone into self-described ‘hibernation’, and all colleges have had to greatly reduce their offerings (nearly all of which have been online), while staffing numbers have plummeted. Many excellent teachers have now left the industry, never to return. The most recent market analysis from English Australia lays bare the crisis. ELICOS commencements in August were 60 percent down on 2020, which was itself of course a shockingly bad year. There were only 178 ELICOS-only visa applications in August – a far cry from the 2842 lodgements made in August 2019. However, these monthly numbers are edging up, providing a faint silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud.

December’s student arrivals will hopefully be the start of a big upswing, though of course it will take a while to get the pipeline flowing again. We probably won’t see significant numbers until well after the Australian summer, but hopefully by late 2022, the sector will be well on the way to recovery.

UK summer schools

Summer language schools in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are a well-established part of the schedule for the well-travelled ELICOS teacher. Typically, these schools rent out university and residential school premises during the northern summers, and host groups of international students who balance English lessons with sightseeing tours. Most staff live onsite, and it can be a great way to get through the English summer between contracts somewhere more exotic.

News from Britain this week is good for teachers interested in such employment, with changes in the UK minimum wage meaning salaries have risen by up to 23% since the last pre-COVID summer of 2019.

In the UK, the minimum wage (called the ‘Living Wage’ in Britain) is for anyone over 23, and it is based on every working hour. In summer schools, requirements for staff can often be onerous, with teachers expected to live onsite, and to assist with getting students to bed in the evening and to get out of bed in the morning, supervise them on tours and complete airport runs to welcome them and to see them off. Working hours can often be up to 60 or 70 per week.

Employees working the standard 60 hours a week can expect to earn around £500 (about $A930) per week plus accommodation in 2022, a figure that could be as high as £600 ($A1100) for those working the maximum 72 hours. Not a princely sum, to be sure, but it can be a fun way to work through the British summer, and with finding staff proving to be a headache for employers in post-Brexit Britain, it may be an opportunity for those Australian teachers with the necessary visas and passports.

Season’s greetings

This will be the last edition of Newsmonth for 2021, but we will be back with all the latest from the international student sector in 2022. All of us here at the IEU wish all of our members a great festive season and summer.

Kendall Warren