What do I need to know to get started in ELICOS?

ELT Support has worked with existing RTOs, schools and other organisations, as well as new start-ups, to establish ELICOS colleges. This page is designed to help you decide if you would like to set up an ELICOS operation. This is general information only – please contact us on 0403 791 238 or to discuss your particular situation.

What courses should I run?

First of all, you need to consider the type of student you would like to attract, why they’re coming to Australia, and if they have any future study plans. This will inform the types of courses you will offer, and the levels of language proficiency you can teach to.

Here is a summary of the main student goals and the types of courses that can be offered to meet their needs.




Improve English language proficiency in a general way; OR Travel or do casual work in an English speaking country.

General English (GE)

The most common ELICOS course. Focus on developing the English language and communicative skills needed for interacting with others. Courses can be from Beginner level (A1/2 on the CEFR*) to Advanced (C1/C2 CEFR).

Students with low levels of proficiency may take a GE course before they start EAP (see below).

Prepare for further study:  vocational study in an RTO, or private higher education, or university

English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

EAP courses focus on the English needed for further study – for example, writing essays, taking part in discussions, researching information, critical thinking, supporting ideas with evidence, giving presentations, etc.

Some EAP courses include preparation for vocational study, e.g. teaching students how to write reports, give detailed explanations, speak up in simulated meetings, etc.

EAP courses teach students skills over and above those tested in exams such as IELTS and PTE, meaning that they should be better prepared for their future course than those entering based instead scores on those tests.

EAP courses are usually for students with higher levels of English; they may have to study in General English first.

HSP courses teach students language and skills they need in high school. They usually help students build their general English language skills but also have components focusing on the language of the subjects they’ll study in school: maths, science, humanities, English literature, etc

Study in an Australian school.

Secondary/High School Preparation (HSP)

HSP courses teach students language and skills they need in high school. They usually help students build their general English language skills but also have components focusing on the language of the subjects they’ll study in school: maths, science, humanities, English literature, etc

Take an exam such as IELTS, Pearson Test of English (PTE), Cambridge B2 First.

Exam preparation course

Usually general English language skills and knowledge development plus exam orientation and practice.

Learn the spoken and written English needed for a specific context.

An English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course such as English for Business, English for Health Professionals, English for Hospitality

Usually based on the spoken and written English the students will need for that particular context. These are very useful for colleges which have on-going contracts with particular employers, to train their offshore staff, or for students who need to improve their English to work in a particular area, e.g hospitality or business management.

As ESP courses are usually one-offs, written to fit specific circumstances, they are more expensive to prepare than

Teach English in schools in their own country.

English for Teaching, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and EfTC (English for Teaching Children).

Usually general English language skills and knowledge development plus strategies for encouraging young students to communicate in class. They often involve some teaching practice.

Have a short holiday and study English for a short time with a group.

Study Tour

A combination of General English or EAP with sporting, social, tourist or cultural activities, organised by a high school or university in a non-English speaking country.

Adapted with permission from English Australia (n.d.)

*CEFR = Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, a six-point scale used widely to describe language ability. See more information here.

The team at ELT Support can prepare curricula for any of these courses, and help you decide which combination of courses best suits your needs.

What levels should I offer?

Many ELICOS colleges have more than one course running at the same time, and these may be at different levels.

There is a set of names used in ELT around the world to describe proficiency levels from Beginner (lowest) to Advanced (highest). Sometimes, additional levels are created between these. Generally, a student at Elementary level should be able to have a basic conversation, while an Intermediate level student can usually talk about most general topics but usually awkwardly and sometimes with difficulty.

There is a lot of complexity in mapping levels of language learning to exam results such as IELTS overall band scores. One area of consensus is that successful completion of Upper Intermediate (with carefully benchmarked assessments) can be taken as equivalent to IELTS 5.5 overall, but beyond that, it’s best to discuss with us – we’ve developed some very careful mapping which we use to support our curricula and other services.

How long should the courses be?

Progress through the levels will depend on an individual student’s aptitude for language learning and dedication to their studies, but a conscientious student may spend roughly twelve weeks at each level, sometimes as little as ten.

Interested? Contact us on 0403 791 238 or to discuss how we can help you choose courses, and levels within each course. We are specialists in curriculum writing in ELICOS.

What’s the difference between CRICOS and NEAS?


Australian education institutions must be registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) if they intend to deliver ELICOS courses to students on a Student Visa. To do this, they must meet the requirements of:

– the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act); and
– the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 (National Code).

They must also meet the ELICOS Standards 2018 (ELICOS Standards).

Colleges are regulated by an independent body.

  • ASQA, for providers who are also RTOs and some stand-alone ELICOS providers; or
  • TEQSA, for providers with higher education and foundation programs, or direct entry agreements to those.

See our FAQs page for more information about ASQA and TEQSA.

Audit process
There are differences between the audit procedures for ASQA and TEQSA, but a general summary of the process is below.

  1. Prepare and submit an application
    This involves writing curriculum documents for each course, including a detailed syllabus for each level. Some policies and procedures and other evidence also have to be submitted at this point, while others may be looked at during later stages. A key person you will need to recruit at this stage is an Academic Manager (sometimes known as a Director of Studies), with experience in teaching and managing within English Language teaching organisations, ideally ELICOS, plus related postgraduate qualifications.

  2. Desk audit

    The application will be checked at one of the ASQA/TEQSA offices.

  3. Site audit
    If the desk audit is passed, in most cases auditors will visit your premises. Expect at least a day of interviews of key staff, document checks, tours of premises etc. Your Academic Manager will be key to this. Alternatively, you may be asked to send in a video of a walk-through of your premises, showing clearly that you have all the rooms, resources such as books, equipment such as projectors and computers, and so on. There may be more questions and requests for documentation after this.

  4. ASQA/TEQSA make a decision
    If the decision is positive, a further process should result in being granted a CRICOS number. You can begin recruitment of international once a CRICOS number has been obtained.

For more information about CRICOS, go to


NEAS is a quality assurance body. Many ELICOS colleges are also members of NEAS. Benefits include:

  • Marketing: agents tend to send higher value students to colleges with evidence of better quality, and NEAS membership is part of this. Potential students are likely to have greater confidence in NEAS members than otherwise.
  • Compliance: ASQA tend to give NEAS members a better risk rating, and auditors often have more confidence that the college is compliant and of good quality, due to the regular NEAS checks. This may lead to fewer and smoother audits.
  • Quality: NEAS provides helpful feedback which can be used to improve operations in line with your strategic aims. Also, many of the better teachers prefer to work at NEAS member colleges as it’s better for their career and CV.

Audit process
The NEAS process involves an initial audit. This is similar to that required for registration on CRICOS, but it is against the NEAS Quality Principles  and uses feedback from stakeholders such as focus groups and surveys to inform the outcome. Unlike ASQA, however, the emphasis is on giving the college positive feedback and helping the college improve, and the approach is friendly and supportive. Applying for NEAS membership is recommended for most ELICOS colleges.

Providers can apply to NEAS for quality endorsement before their operations start, to demonstrate to ASQA and to the market from the beginning that they are set up to run a quality operation. They can then apply for full endorsement once they have students and staff who can participate in the focus groups. See NEAS Quality Assurance  for details of the endorsement process.

How long does it take for students to improve their English?
At ELT Support, we’re often asked how long it takes students to reach the level of English language proficiency they need for a particular purpose, such as further study. The answer depends of course on many factors, such as how much time the person has for study, how much natural aptitude they have for language learning, their age (very roughly, whether or not they are primary school age), their interest and motivation in learning and how much they can use their skills in their first language to help them with the new language. But some patterns have emerged from recent research.

Formal language learning is needed
One important consideration is whether the person has opportunities for formal language learning. Contrary to popular belief, simply immersing an adult in an English-speaking environment rarely works – we don’t need to look further than the struggles of many migrants, even highly educated ones, who came to English-speaking countries as adults for evidence of that. Looking specifically at university students, though, there is research on this. Pamela Humphreys, as part of her Ph.D. studies, sent a large number of students for IELTS tests at the beginning and end of their three-year university degrees and compared the results. She found that the average score gain was 0.3 of an IELTS band score, a barely noticeable difference – and that many students went backward.

So, studying in a higher education course by itself clearly doesn’t do much for a person’s English language proficiency; language learning in adults doesn’t occur simply by ‘exposure’ or ‘osmosis’ – time – and quite a considerable amount of time at that – must be devoted explicitly to language learning activities. While it’s common to hear stories about people who migrated to an English-speaking country as young children rapidly developing a high level of proficiency, at least in spoken ‘playground’ language, this ability disappears after roughly late primary school. This is known as the ‘critical period’ – see, for example, Lightbown and Spada (2013).

Optimum duration
So, given that simple exposure isn’t enough, and formal language learning is necessary, the next question is how much formal learning is needed? Research in this area is tricky because of the difficulty in finding a large uniform sample and limited research funding in the area generally, but Kathy Elder and Kieran O’Loughlin (1998) looked at 112 students very roughly concluded that:

  • 200-240 hours of language-focused instruction, for example 20 hours per week for 10 to 12 weeks, is enough, on average, to increase proficiency by the equivalent of half an IELTS band score. However, it needs to be noted that the researchers didn’t investigate whether spreading this out over a longer period, e.g. an academic year, had an effect.
  • This average conceals considerable variation – some went backward.
  • Progress is slower for higher proficiency levels. For example, less than half of the students who started at IELTS 6.0 went up by half a band score, compared with two-thirds of those who started at IELTS 5.0 and 90% of those who started at IELT 4.5.

Language background
To gain a deeper insight into this variation, Pearson has published a summary of research on language proficiency gain (Benigno et al, 2017). The consensus shown within the report demonstrates a clear pattern – that a significant factor is the ‘distance’ between the learner’s first language (or languages) and the language they’re learning. For example, people who grew up speaking Chinese or Arabic can take two to three times longer than those who grew up speaking French or German to make the same gains in English proficiency. Looking in more detail and taking moving from IELTS 6.0 to 6.5 as an example, their research shows that students can take anything from around 300 to over 700 hours*, suggesting that Elder and O’Loughlin’s research may have been optimistic.

Individual differences
It’s worth noting though that language learning is a very individual thing and is very non-linear. As Benigno et al (2017) also point out, there will be times in many learners’ journeys when language proficiency actually goes backward, and peaks, troughs, and plateaus are common.

So, looking at the research in this area, it’s quite clear that some easily-made assumptions can be very wrong. Most adults will need a significant amount of instruction specifically focused on the language if they are to improve their proficiency, and if they are from a language background very much outside the Indo-European language group, the time they will need to spend will, in most cases, increase considerably. A particularly difficult scenario is a student from East Asia or an Arabian country wanting to go that extra mile from around IELTS 6.0 to 6.5.

Benigno, V., de Jong, J., & Van Moere, A. (2017). How long does it take to learn a language? Insights from research on language learning (Global Scale of English Research Series). Pearson.

Elder, C., O’Loughlin, K., & IELTS Australia. (2003). Investigating the relationship between intensive English language study and band score gain on IELTS (Volume 4; IELTS Research Reports). IELTS Australia.

Humphreys, P. (2018). What is this thing called academic English language proficiency? From theory to principled practice. UECA PD Fest, Sydney.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned 4th edition. Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers. Oxford University Press.

Get in touch if you need any help