Despite being hit hard by the events of September 11, many English language providers in the USA are confident that student numbers are picking up this year, and forecast that 2002 summer season figures may be close to 2001 figures.
Michael Palm, Director of Worldwide Marketing for Berlitz Languages and ELS Language Centers, said that ELS was in fact planning to open two new centres in June. "Those students least affected by these events have been the academically-bound individuals who intend to go on to further study in the USA," he reported. "We have started to experience gains in the number of applications as confidence returns to the marketplace."
Palm reported a 15 per cent decrease in applications and enrolments post September 11, while Deborah Healey, Director of the English Language Institute at Oregon State University, noted a 30 per cent drop in enrolments for the autumn term. "We saw a slight recovery this January in our winter term," she said, "and we expect similar modest gains for the spring term, depending in part on how peaceful the 2002 Olympics are in Salt Lake City."
At FLS International, which has schools in seven locations throughout the USA, Chief Executive, Del Swain, reported a cancellation rate of almost 50 per cent from September 11 to the New Year. "Starting from the New Year into 2002, [bookings] are a little better," he said. "We're looking at volume [which is] down 30 per cent on 2001 figures for the first quarter, and we're hopeful that we will only be 15 per cent down in the second quarter."
Swain reported that numbers from South America seemed to be the most affected, although he added that there were also economic factors to be taken into account. In New York, Eimear Harrison, Centre Director for Embassy CES New York, reported that, "only Brazil stayed at home in force" last autumn. Citing a drop in student numbers of 50 per cent immediately after September 11, and a drop in forward bookings of 67 per cent in early January, Harrison said that bookings only began to revive in late January. "The career and opportunity minded couldn't put off their plans any longer and our commitments started to bear fruit," she said.
Harrison is optimistic about the future. "College year bookings [have] gathered impetus and the Japanese [have] begun to rekindle their love affair with New York. The energy is back in our business and it is everywhere, including with all our agents abroad," she said. "With forward bookings for Embassy CES back at the rate they were coming in last year' New York is more competitive than ever."
Nevertheless, some schools painted a bleak picture for the current operating environment. "Things have been really slow," said Nick Paladino, Vice President of Language Exchange International in Florida. "[Bookings] almost stopped for a while. I had one agent who told me that for one month, he did not have one student who was interested in studying in America."
Paladino said that many schools in Florida were feeling the pinch. "We hope things will work out as quickly as possible, but it's [difficult] with the [student] numbers we are getting."
New language tests for UK immigrants
UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, introduced new rules on UK immigration policy in February this year and revealed that language skills and knowledge about British society are to become requirements of citizenship.
"Evidence suggests that migrants who are fluent in English are, on average, 20 per cent more likely to be employed than those lacking such skills," he said. "To encourage this, we will ask applicants for naturalisation to demonstrate a certain standard of [English] language."
According to a report in the Independent newspaper, immigrants will be required to undergo written and spoken language tests before they are able to attain citizenship status. Asylum-seekers will also be expected to take English and citizenship lessons.
A further proposal is to adopt measures to enable foreign students who have graduated in the UK to switch into work permit employment. "We are not a 'fortress Britain'," said Blunkett. "We are an open, trading economy, and we need to ensure that we can recruit the people we need to compete and prosper in the new global economy."
Increased use of up-to-date technology at border controls was also announced by Blunkett.
New agent web strategy launched in the UK
The English in Britain website, which supports the English in Britain guide, distributed by the British Tourist Authority and the British Council worldwide, now offers accredited UK providers, which subscribe to its new International Partnership service, a web-based strategy for maintaining and promoting links with agent partners overseas.
Schools can now add their agents to their listing on the English in Britain website, so that visitors can see details of their "local branches". David Blackie, Director of EFL Services, the company which manages the website, explained that the idea had been developed to support "optimal quality of service provision to students, and to strengthen the vital relationship between [the] UK course provider and overseas agent".
Any student query can be forwarded to the relevant local agent and the email will also be copied to the school itself. Blackie explained, "The information is delivered simultaneously to the agent and the school or college, so that both parties know of contacts as they happen. They can therefore follow up and coordinate their recruitment work in the best interests of the student, and proceed on a basis of shared knowledge and understanding."
At the time of going to press, 23 language schools had signed up to the new scheme, and Blackie was confident that many more would follow. "It is of course very early to have agent feedback," he said. "The feedback that I have had from agents has all been of the 'how can I become included' type."
Carolyn Blackmore from the Eckersley School of English has signed up for the International Partnership option. "I think this is really good for our relationship with agents," she said. "It seems like a good idea and it keeps us ahead of the game." Andrew Hardy from Scanbrit School agreed. "The agents that we have [listed] are very happy about it, and it helps show the trust that we have got in them," he said, adding, "In some parts of the world, people still feel happier making contact and [booking] in their own language and country."
Blackie said that the International Partnership was a real opportunity for schools to work on the web with agents and consultants. "[Until now], websites have in effect mainly competed with agents," he said. "You don't work with [agent partners] and then compete against them when it suits you - not if you want the partnership to really work. Now we are extending [our] service' and I firmly believe that the future lies [here]."
Australia and New Zealand report Asian surge
Chinese and Taiwanese students are favouring Australasian study destinations, according to reports. Chief Executive of Education New Zealand, Lester Taylor, has reported that revenue generated by foreign students in New Zealand has now topped NZ$1 billion (US$40 million). He attributed the rise in students and revenue to "considerable growth" in Chinese student numbers, amongst other factors.
He estimated that about 10,000 of the 45,000 foreign students in New Zealand between July 2000 and July 2001 came from China.
Meanwhile, in a report in Taiwan's Taipei Times, the Australian Education Centre estimated that the number of Taiwanese students choosing Australia as a study destination increased by 14 per cent in 2001, while those choosing the USA, Canada and the UK declined. According to the newspaper report, there are currently 6,500 Taiwanese students studying in Australia.
NZ operation for SGI
Study Group International (SGI) is opening its first school in New Zealand this month, adding to its multinational chain of schools. Taylors College and Embassy CES in Auckland will offer tuition options ranging from general English through to the Taylors Auckland foundation year, in collaboration with the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology.
"Opening in New Zealand completes our move to offer programmes in all major Anglophone countries," said SGI Group Managing Director, Andrew Thick. "I am delighted with the response that we have received from our partner agents and look forward to welcoming their first students."