By Jackie Prowse, ELC Director

The year 2020 marks the UVic English Language Centre's (ELC) 50th anniversary. Like many of my long-time ELC colleagues, this milestone has me shaking my head, wondering where the years have gone and eagerly anticipating the next steps of the ELC's journey.

The ELC started in 1970 as part of UVic's Linguistics department, offering English as an Additional Language (EAL) to small groups (30 to 75 students) each summer. The biggest group attending ELC programs in those days was sent by the government-funded 'Explore' program, from French Canada. Explore students still join our programs to this day and we look forward to hosting them every May.

Black and white photo of ELC students in front of the University of Victoria sign

A photo of ELC students from our archives

I joined the ELC as an instructor in the summer of 1993 and have been here ever since. At that time, for me to keep my teaching position, the ELC needed to have 150 students in the program. We had 10 teachers who worked full-time and we hired a few additional teachers for August programs. Part of the teachers' duties was to have lunch together with the students every day and we knew each one of them by name. By that time we had grown to about 850 enrollments per year, and all classes were organized manually using an Excel spreadsheet.

Photo of Jackie, in Japan with a university instructor and student group

Jackie, in Japan with a university instructor and student group.

Today, over 3,200 student enrollments each year necessitate an instructional staff of 32 full-time instructors, 34 part-time instructors and 80 Cultural Assistants (CA) in peak seasons. Amazingly, we still know most of the students by name, as our dedicated Registration team works closely with them before their arrival. As well, our CAs remain a crucial source of support to our students throughout their studies. Steady growth in our student numbers over the years has allowed the ELC to expand its programs, services and facilities exponentially. ELC programs now begin every month and offer an increasingly diverse range of activities which allow students to learn more about Canadian culture while practicing their English skills.

When the Division of Continuing Studies (of which the ELC is a proud part) opened the doors to its own building in 2003, previously separate services and program areas were united. Having a centrally located 'home base' on campus made a tremendous impact on the ELC student experience and the 2016 addition of a third wing to our building has been a similar 'game-changer' for the ELC. The central atrium is a favourite study space for our students seven days a week and has given us the capacity to offer more creative and ambitious social activities than ever before. The building expansion also facilitated a community-oriented re-imagining of what was previously known as the Study Centre and Pronunciation Clinic. In 2018, we launched the ELC Learning Centre, a flexible, welcoming drop-in facility where our students have conversation practice with Canadian volunteers, attend workshops or get extra help with homework from ELC  instructors. The Learning Centre offers an excellent example of student-centred innovation that comes with so many years of experience.

As host to over 30 nationalities per year (and over 80 in our long history), we have become a global community, and embrace the opportunity and challenge that this entails. While teaching English and facilitating cultural exchange has always been at the heart of the ELC, when I reflect on our past, I know that the team behind our programs has spent just as much time learning as have our students. We've come a long way: from small summer programs in tiny campus buildings that are now slated for demolition, to year-round programming in one of UVic's most beautiful facilities. Overhead projectors have been replaced by smart screens and our students now use Moodle, blogs, work on laptops and submit assignments online.

Photo of Jackie with an ELC alumni and prospective student.

Jackie with an ELC alumni and prospective student.

Still, the fundamental work we do has not changed: we welcome people from all over the world, help them to meet their language and life goals, and facilitate the formation of lifelong friendships and intercultural understanding. I know that we will continue this pursuit far beyond our 50th year and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow alongside our students so that they will always enjoy the most rewarding experience possible at the University of Victoria.


Join us in our celebration!

Visit our ELC 50th anniversary website to see photos of ELC over the years, hear stories about teachers and CAs, find out details about our ELC & Me Video Contest, and much more!


  • Posted December 3, 2019