Present tense: International student sector recovery continues

Welcome to another year of Present Tense, your window into the private post-secondary education sector.

The international student sector continues its recovery from the dark days of border closures and calamitously low student numbers during the pandemic. English Australia reported in their December Market Analysis of the big increases in student numbers in the latter part of 2022.

Overall, ELICOS commencements increased by 100 per cent on the same time in 2021, while new enrolments also increased, by nearly 45 per cent.

Colombia has become the single biggest source of students, with an increase of over 4000 students (nearly 150 per cent), while numbers from Thailand have also been booming. Numbers from China, the traditional drivers of the industry, continue to struggle, though the end of lockdown arrangements in that country may see those numbers improve in 2023.

International student numbers in Australia declined sharply in the wake of the pandemic-era border closures, but numbers have seen a steady improvement since Australia’s international borders re-opened in December 2021. Before the pandemic there were over half a million international students living in Australia, but this number halved by the time the border reopened, and had only recovered to about 370,000 by October last year.

Presumably numbers will further improve this year, but it may be another year before numbers are back to where they were in 2019.

Bargaining update

Your union continues to seek improvements for members in the post-secondary education industry through the enterprise bargaining process. For much of 2022, the IEU, alongside our sister union the NTEU, was bargaining at UoW College, the pathways colleges of the University of Wollongong.

These negotiations concluded just before Christmas, with an agreement to improve wages by around 10 per cent over the three years of the agreement, along with some improvements in other areas of concern, such as academic subject coordination. The agreement was endorsed by staff in January and has been submitted to the Fair Work Commission.

Bargaining will soon commence at three other employers with a lot of IEU members. The first of these is Taylors College, who run the pathways programs for the University of Sydney. These negotiations are at an early stage, and while the parties are still some way apart on some issues, there are other areas where agreement should be reached quickly. In the next few months, negotiations will also start at Navitas Futures (formerly Navitas English), as well as Navitas English Services, the ELICOS arm of the Navitas group.

The Fair Work Act includes provisions for ‘good faith bargaining’, under which an employer can be compelled to bargain where it can be demonstrated that most employees (or group of employees, such as teachers) want that to happen. Some of the bargaining provisions in the Act were strengthened by changes that passed through parliament late in 2022. To find out how this might work at your workplace, contact your union.

From the international desk

In January, El Gazette reported that 1400 English language teaching assistants, recruited by the provincial government in Valencia, Spain to work in schools, have not been paid. Most of these assistants are recruited from outside the EU, and so have no residency or work rights, and so many have returned home.

This looks like a short-sighted approach in Valencia (not to mention disgraceful), as El Gazette is also reporting that there is currently a world-wide shortage of ESL teachers, with countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada and Malta scouring the world for practitioners.

Australia also has a teacher shortfall, and with student numbers on the increase, it could be a good time to return to the industry for those who’ve left. And it would also be a good time for employers to have a good hard look at what they are offering potential employees!

Kendall Warren