The English language sector (often referred to as ELICOS in Australia) is a major contributor to Australia’s international education profile, yet many people are unaware or unsure of how it actually works.

Q. What is ELICOS?

A. ELICOS stands for English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students. This acronym is used only in Australia: other countries may use English as a Foreign Language (EFL) to describe this kind of program, as opposed to English as a second (or other) language (ESL) programs that may be offered to migrants or citizens. All types of English language program can be grouped under the generic term English language teaching (ELT).

ELICOS is NOT an institution or an employer. An institution such as TAFE or a private provider may offer ELICOS courses, but ELICOS is not an employing body in its own right.


Q. Who studies ELICOS?

A. International students and visitors to Australia. ELICOS students may have student visas (currently around 60%) or may have visitor or working holiday or other visas (around 40%). Students with student visas are closely monitored with regard to their attendance and course progress. ELICOS students are mostly in their early twenties and have had experience of formal education. Many will have already studied English.


Q. Why do people study ELICOS?

A. A wide range of reasons! ELICOS students may want to continue studying at an Australian high school, TAFE / vocational college or university; travel or work in an English speaking country; gain a qualification that gives them entry to improved work or study options at home or better access to cultures where English is the lingua franca. ELICOS participants include present or future teachers, politicians, academics, health professionals, business people and entrepreneurs, rocket scientists, performing artists and pilots. All are here because they want to learn how to communicate using English.


Q. What ELICOS courses are there?

A. ELICOS courses are closely aligned to the needs of the students. The main courses offered in Australia are as follows:

Learner Goal


- improve general English language proficiency
General English (GE) has a focus on developing the English language and communicative skills needed for a range of contexts. Courses can be from Beginner level (A1/2 on the CEFR) to Advanced (C1/C2 CEFR).
- travel or do casual work in an English speaking country

General English (GE)
 has a focus on developing the English language and communicative skills needed for a range of contexts. Courses can be from Beginner level (A1/2 on the CEFR) to Advanced (C1/C2 CEFR). 
- study in an Australian school, vocational college or university
Secondary/High School Preparation (S/HSP), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Further Studies (EFS). Usually based on the spoken and written English the students will need for further study.
- take an exam such as IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, Cambridge First Certificate
Exam preparation course with a combination of general skills and knowledge development plus exam orientation and practice.
- learn the spoken and written English needed for a specific context
An English for special purposes (ESP) course such as English for Business, English for Health Professionals, English for Hospitality etc. Usually based on the spoken and written English the students will need for that particular context.
- teach English in schools in their own country
English for Teaching - many types including TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages; EfTC (English for Teaching Children). Most will include a practicum.
- have a short holiday and study English for a short time with a group
Study tour - a combination of General English with sporting, social, tourist or cultural activities.


Q. How long do students study?

A. Students can enrol for any length of period from one or two weeks up to 52 weeks for General English courses. Other courses are generally offered in five or ten week blocks. Students on visitor visas cannot study for longer than 13 weeks and students on working holiday visas cannot study for more than 17 weeks.  The average course length is approximately 13 weeks.


Q. How many hours a week do students study?

A. Students on student visas must study at least 20 hours a week. This is usually offered over five days. Student visa holders must meet the attendance requirements of their visa or risk breaching their visa conditions.


Q. Are ELICOS providers and courses accredited?

A. ELICOS providers who teach students on student visas must be registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS), the national database of all courses and providers of courses to international students in Australia, as a provider and for each of the courses they offer. In order to be registered, providers must meet the National ELICOS Standards as well as their obligations under the ESOS Act and the National Code.


Q: How are ELICOS students assessed?

ELICOS students generally have a placement assessment on arrival at the institution for the purpose of establishing the appropriate level of class for them to commence their study. Because they do not study for a prescribed length of time and do not generally want formal assessment, General English students are usually given a proficiency rating on completion of their period of study. Outcomes of ESP courses may also be assessed through general proficiency or a more competency-based assessment of learning outcomes may be administered.


Q: How are ELICOS students protected?

A: The ELICOS industry in Australia is very highly regulated. ELICOS providers, along with all providers of education and training to overseas students, must comply with conditions of the Education Services to Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000. This Act is administered by the federal (Australian) Department with responsibility for Education and includes a National Code outlining how providers must conduct their operations. Areas of operations covered by the National Code include marketing and information, use of agents, care and services to students, dealing with student complaints and appeals.