Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- EC English Language Centres is closing all of its schools in Australia and New Zealand, along with three others in the UK and US
- The chain will continue to operate 22 remaining centres in six countries
- The continuing border closures in Australia and New Zealand appear to have factored in management decision making
Leading ELT chain EC English Language Centres announced today that it will close its schools in New Zealand and Australia along with selected centres in the UK and USA. In a message to agents, Executive Chairman and CEO Andrew Mangion confirmed that EC schools will be closed indefinitely in Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Gold Coast, Australia. In addition, EC will also close schools in Oxford, Miami, and Washington, DC.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, which is now in its fifteenth month, has wrought havoc on our industry and many other travel related industries around the world, on a level never seen in living history,” said Mr Mangion. “While we are confident that there is still strong demand for our industry and growing pent up demand to travel again, we believe that it will take time for student numbers to bounce back. We would rather have fewer numbers of schools and destinations but healthier student numbers in our schools and we want to right size our schools to this new reality.”
The EC closures are of course part of a larger pattern of independent and chain language centres winding up or scaling back operations as the pandemic continues into 2021. A recent item in EL Gazette noted that, “It is clear that COVID has caused particular havoc among middle-sized language school chains concentrated in one country.”
A notable thing about EC, however, is that the chain had schools in eight different destination countries and is clearly anticipating – in its closure decisions – that some destinations will recover more quickly than others.
EC will continue to operate its 22 remaining schools in 16 cities in the US, Canada, UK, Malta, Ireland, and South Africa. “We want to focus on the destinations that we believe are most open and willing to bounce back,” adds Mr Mangion. “Australia and New Zealand have clearly shut their borders indefinitely with no credible expectation as to when they will be re-opened. We strongly believe that running language centres in such an environment, particularly where such countries are no longer prepared to support the impacts that their border closures are having on our industry is unsustainable.”
New Zealand and Australia have won considerable praise for their respective handling of the pandemic. Indeed, there are indications that the strong public health response has in some respects helped to boost the attractiveness of each country. But both countries have also achieved their success in countering COVID-19 in part by establishing and maintaining very strict controls on their international borders.
Outside of limited pilot efforts, both Australia and New Zealand remain closed to international students with no clear indication as to when safe arrival corridors may be opened to students. Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his government’s continuing commitment to reserving Australia’s COVID quarantine facilities for the use of returning citizens. Amid mounting frustration on the part of international educators, students, and other stakeholders, the Australian government has so far been non-committal as to when border restrictions may be eased for students.
Nor is New Zealand currently admitting students, outside of a small cohort of returning students that will be permitted to enter on a pilot programme starting in April 2021. However, the broader context for student mobility to New Zealand remains uncertain. In a March 2021 briefing to agents, Immigration New Zealand officials explained that the country is not handling visa applications from offshore students at this point.
“[Immigration New Zealand] is not processing any applications from students who are outside of New Zealand,” explained INZ official Celia Coombes. “The students should not put time and effort into updating documents at this point. There is no set timeframe for when the border restrictions will ease.”
For his part, Mr Mangion adds that EC will now focus on strengthening its remaining language schools and that the company “will also continue to invest in our online virtual language programmes and our new Virtual Reality offering, which will allow international students to access our award-winning language programmes from the comfort of their homes. All of this will be underpinned by the significant new investment and funding that EC secured in late 2020.”
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