In February 2022, BROWNS acquired professional services training specialist Monarch Institute.
While leading the English Language School as CEO, Blake also continued as Director of Strategic Projects at the Monarch Institute.
With BROWNS having such a distinguished history – which has been highly regarded over the years – Blake wants to reassure stakeholders that under new ownership it can continue to provide the “great heritage and quality education” the provider has become known for.
“When we bought BROWNS, there was no intention to change the business model. [It] it was fantastic as it was and that’s why we specifically looked at buying BROWNS. It was a natural fit with our values,” Blake tells The PIE.
The point of buying BROWNS was not to revolutionize it, but to improve it, says Blake. It’s not the only anniversary being celebrated as 2023 also marks two decades of BROWNS.
“It has 19 years of extraordinary history,” he says.
However, Blake reports on the difficulties BROWNS and the wider sector have faced during the pandemic and what has been and will be needed to rebuild.
“All staff have been dismissed. When I started … we had to get two brand new leases, multi-million dollar renovations and two brand new campuses,” he explains.
“It was a tough time for the industry … we had to completely restart the schools.”
A year later, the English language provider has around 70 staff and Blake describes the new campuses as “the best you’ll see in Australia”.
It signals an extraordinary pace of change.
BROWNS caters for up to 4,000 students each year and is currently home to approximately 43 nationalities. With both campuses nearly full, Blake is excited about this “running head start”; which he attributes in part to the strong university-government partnership the provider has developed, particularly in secondary school preparation.
“Our high school prep program is something I’m really interested in expanding”
“Our high school prep program is something I’m really interested in expanding and developing. It’s often the Asian market, but I think we can make a name for ourselves in those markets.
“There’s certainly a desire from me and anyone else in the company to showcase what we do so well.”
Blake’s long career in education spans Asia and Australia, and his accumulated experience across ELICOS, TNE, vocational and higher education has led him to his current role – and given the team further scope to consider expansion.
“I have a good understanding of what it means to work in foreign jurisdictions, the complexities and joys that come with it. There is some consideration of possibly looking at TNE opportunities and using some of that experience,” he says.
“We’re very interested in strategies for significant growth, but we’re making sure we do it in line with our core values of quality and a great student experience.”
“It’s really rewarding to see brand loyalty”
Like many in Australia’s ELICOS sector, Blake is concerned about the teacher shortage and is eager to recruit in countries such as the UK, where the working holiday visa age will soon be raised to 35.
With campuses in Brisbane and Queensland, Blake believes BROWNS teachers can benefit from the “beautiful lifestyle” in Australia.
However, part of the mission to improve BROWNS has also been to bring back as many of its original teachers as possible, which has been “very successful”, Blake tells The PIE.
“It’s really rewarding to see brand loyalty, not just from a student or agent perspective, but from a teacher perspective, that they’re invested in the brand and how much they care.”