Given the influence that immigration and visa issues can have on the popularity or otherwise of language travel destinations, visa-related matters occupied a significant proportion of time for many language school associations around the world in 2012.
In the UK, English UK is represented on the newly streamlined Joint Education Taskforce, which was created by the Home Office in 2005 to provide a forum for discussing immigration issues within the education sector, and, says Chief Executive, Tony Millns, the association has increased its work with government departments, such as BIS (the Department of Business, Industry and Skills) and UKTI (the Department of Trade and Industry) to put forward positive reasons why students should continue to come to the UK.
At the same time, it has kept the Extended Student Visitor Visa under review. It undertook a member survey, which identified a very low refusal rate and a very high return home rate, as well as finding that 80 per cent of students using it reached the language level they needed for a points-based visa.
Further advocacy work in the immigration field has included discussions with the Home Office over visitors being prohibited from studying English during their stay in the UK. This policy, as Millns explains, means that language centres cannot enrol walk-in students on courses and is causing a great deal of concern to member schools.
As an adjunct to its work in the visa area, Millns highlights considerable demand from members on matters relating to Highly Trusted Status, and very significant growth in CRB checks, to the extent where it has had to outsource the relevant form-filling work that it had been undertaking on members’ behalf.
For English New Zealand in 2012, “Gaining work rights for English language student visa holders in Christchurch was a major step forward,” highlights Operations Manager, Kim Renner. “Years of hard work have gone into seeking automatic work rights for our sector, and a nationwide roll-out in the near future is vital,” she underlines.
Meanwhile, the association is now working closely with Immigration New Zealand regarding visa processing outcomes and attendance requirements, and, she notes, is “getting recognition for the spot audits we do on member schools to monitor students’ attendance”.
In France, Groupement FLE has been trying to influence the relevant authorities regarding visa applications when specific problems have arisen. At the time of writing, according to President, Patrick de Bouter, it was awaiting an appointment with the Foreign Affairs ministry. “This is something that has a direct effect on the member schools and is a ‘service’ which is much appreciated by them,” he comments.
Australian associations English Australia (EA) and the Australian Council for Private Education & Training (Acpet) have been working in a climate of “reform fatigue” of late. “Never have member colleges needed a stronger voice and never has English Australia been as influential as it is now,” asserts Executive Director, Sue Blundell, in the association’s annual report.
While the Knight Review has brought about significant positive changes in the industry, including post-study work rights for degree students, as well as streamlined visa-processing for universities, EA notes that “continuous advocacy work has been required in influencing the implementation of other recommendations, such as the way in which the new Genuine Temporary Entrant criteria are being applied”.
Acpet, too, is working for “the fair and objective application of the new Genuine Temporary Entrant criterion,” says International Engagement Manager and Executive Officer, Ingeborg Loon, who comments that lobbying also continues for post-study work rights for the vocational education and training (VET) sector and expansion of streamlined visa processing arrangements beyond the university education sector.
Among EA members, its work in providing a voice for the industry is identified as the most important reason for their membership, Blundell observes, and involvement in influencing decision-makers extends into a number of areas.
With implementation of the recommendations of the Baird report on international education still on-going, EA invested considerable resources in making representations regarding the Esos legislative framework last year. It was also successful in obtaining changes to the way that the annual registration charge (ARC) is calculated meaning significant cost savings for members.
At English New Zealand, alongside visa work, engagement with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has also continued to be very time-consuming, comments Renner, but rewards have come with the formal recognition of the ENZ Standards and Audit process as part of its external evaluation and review system. “Our work together has given NZQA greater clarity on quality assurance indicators relevant to our sector, and will provide member schools with compliance cost benefits,” she asserts.
English New Zealand’s key priorities remain, as ever, in the areas of advocacy, marketing and quality assurance, but, says Renner, it has now clarified specific strategic policy objectives and how it will engage with industry agencies moving forward, and has recently restructured its relationship with Education New Zealand.
In France, meanwhile, Groupement FLE has intervened to obtain changes to the social law applicable to some of its members, which requires all staff to take annual holidays in the summer a need that is clearly incompatible with the work of language schools, points out de Bouter. It has also been directly responsible for gaining sector representation on the recently established forum of Campus France, a body that promotes French higher education to overseas students.
For some associations, advocacy work extends to involvement in funding bids, and in 2012 Fedele received economic support for the first time from the country’s Ministry of Culture for its work promoting Spanish culture, reports association representative Ana Cózar.
In Italy, Asils president, Francesca Romana Memoli, comments that her association has successfully used its influence in partnership with universities and associations across Europe to obtain European funding for educational projects for example, winning a Leonardo da Vinci project as a partner from Italy in career-specific language training for foreign nurses and medical staff. However, one of its hardest tasks, she observes, has been working on the national contract for school staff, which it has now signed and renewed until 2014.
For Asils, another major aspect of its role is quality assurance. Having established its own quality standards scheme for Asils members some years ago, it is now involved in an on-going project with the Italian Ministry of Education to establish a national quality assurance scheme for private Italian language schools.
Spreading the word
Promotion and marketing activities have, as ever, represented a key area of language school associations’ work, with many organising workshops and other events on behalf of their membership. “Through organising various marketing and cultural activities, such as workshops, seminars, conferences, taking part in different places in the world, [we are] always trying to motivate [our] members to act,” says Italian in Italy spokesman Fabio Boccio.
At Fedele, 2012 events included a road show to Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria. Promotion, alongside visa work, was one of the most in-demand aspects of its remit over the past year, reports Cózar. Work has continued to improve market intelligence for its members, including the introduction of a new, more straightforward procedure for data collection, which has led to more and better quality information.
For Acpet, a key task was to increase the profile of Australia’s private vocational and higher education providers in its key target markets most particularly China and India. In July, it launched its presence in China, where it will provide onshore support to members that are active, or wish to become active, in this market. It also formalised a partnership with India’s National Skills Development Corporation, to facilitate members’ cooperation with Indian partners.
Given the declining international student numbers to Australia of late, English Australia has been called on to provide input for developing ways to return to growth. To this end, it has begun a review of its own marketing strategy, and has launched a new EA brand to promote the message that EA members are “Australia’s leading English language colleges”.
For Feltom in Malta, getting to grips with the task of building a stronger voice in influencing policy makers has triggered a process of structural change to strengthen its administration. This was its main priority in 2012, according to Chief Executive Officer, Genevieve Abela, while also continuing to fulfil its usual mission in terms of influencing the relevant authorities on visa matters, tourism policy, education and school accreditation standards.
Changes beginning in 2012 will continue into 2013, she reports, with new staff and new roles to support association growth, and thus further strengthen its voice in the wider arena. It also intends to develop a more comprehensive focus on its core areas, and achieve more member participation in decision-making.
In France, Groupement FLE will also be making organisational changes, with a proposed increase in the size of its management committee and an additional part-time administrator. For Italian in Italy, an increasing work-load also means that more staff will be sought in 2013. This will allow time to work with the authorities in target growth markets, such as China, Russia and Brazil, to improve the visa approval rate, Boccio comments.
The theme of improvement is also in evidence at English New Zealand, where plans for 2013 include reinvigorating its marketing strategy and exploring new opportunities, according to Renner.
At Fedele, while priorities will remain the same, it now has wider objectives for its main lines of action, including establishing regular communication with embassies and consulates abroad and with government delegations in Spain, and reaching agreements with various bodies for the joint promotion of Spanish language schools. It will also focus on consolidating its corporate image, with all the different regional associations that make up its membership being brought under the Fedele umbrella for branding purposes.
Internationalisation is another recurring theme in associations’ plans for this year. Asils in Italy will be “seeking new synergies with other associations worldwide,” Memoli reveals, while at ABLS in the UK, “As we enter our twentieth year of operation,” Chair, Ben Whittaker, observes, “Now is the time to introduce additional categories of membership, which will further forge links within and outside of the UK.”
English UK also reports that it is considering a number of new initiatives, among them “making the association more international” a role, Millns explains, that could develop from its recent work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the new international education strategy.
Language school associations are thus striving to build on and improve the service they offer their members, and, while the cost of annual membership may especially in challenging times seem high, “It is precisely at these times,” points out Blundell, “that associations are most needed, and that colleges benefit most from their membership.” Long may they continue their valuable role.
While many of the major language school associations worldwide operate on a national footing, there are also a number of bodies whose representation transcends national boundaries. What binds these groups together is a common service aim.
As Jan Capper, Executive Director at Ialc (the International Association of Language Centres) and Co-Covenor of Gaela, the Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations which forges bonds between associations promoting language learning by study abroad and provides a forum for exchange of information highlights, not all markets have strong national associations and many schools worldwide still have no national access to accreditation, representation and professional development. “In those markets, multilingual associations like Ialc, Eaquals and IHWO (International House World Organisation) can have a useful role,” she observes.
Ialc itself works on behalf of 115 language schools in 24 countries, and, “[It] has lasted three decades,” Capper explains, “because it satisfies a market need for identifiable, accredited, service-oriented independent language schools teaching different languages around the world.”
In 2012, Ialc completed a two-year strategic review of membership policy, to find the best way of securing for members a strong market position, and good return on investment, in the future. It now allows existing members to expand internally, and accepts a wider range of company structures than in the past. It will also be gradually adding more members in high-demand locations, Capper reports. It further aims to consistently improve its quality assurance mechanisms, “Because quality, along with the style of service offered by leading independent language schools, is the heart of our marketing proposition and we have to deliver on this.”
IHWO which in 2013 celebrates 60 years in the industry now has 154 members having recently affiliated language schools in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Mexico. Like Ialc, it recruits from among “high quality schools that aren’t part of a chain”. Having launched a new look and feel for its brand at the end of 2011, it spent 2012 rolling out the new design and facilitating implementation by members, notes Chief Operating Officer, Lucy Horsefield.
As part of a drive to exploit online technology more, in 2012 IHWO held two online conferences for teachers, as well as running regular live online workshops for IH teachers. In 2013, it will be holding various online seminars and training events for its school administrative staff and teachers.
IHWO took part in Alphe in Seoul, Korea, last year, and, reports Horsefield, its own annual road show is becoming increasingly popular, with 25 member schools represented at last year’s Asian event. In 2013, she comments that it will be seeking to extend its foothold in the Asian markets, building on groundwork already undertaken.
Ialc continues to run its regular agent workshop, and the 2013 event will be its biggest-ever, says Capper, with over 130 participating agents. In late 2012, it held its most successful road show in Russia. “Professional exchange has always been important to Ialc members,” she continues, and, further focussing on agent relationships, in 2013, Ialc intends to extend these benefits to agents.
Professional development focus
Professional development and training events are growing in demand from members, according to a number of national language school associations.
One such is French association, Groupement FLE, whose Journées Pédagogiques were introduced to supplement the training opportunities offered at its annual meetings. As President Patrick de Bouter explains, the second of these events took place in Paris in 2012, when over 150 teachers and directors of studies from both member and non-member schools gathered for a two-day workshop. “We can expect this sort of initiative to meet increasing success in the future,” he asserts.
In Spain, Fedele has seen high demand for its new management workshops for school directors. Four sessions were held in 2012, all of them related to aspects of marketing, reports Spokesperson Ana Cózar. It has also successfully launched a training programme in collaboration with Instituto Cervantes and major publishers for teachers at member schools.
In Australia, the new national Professional Development Framework has proved popular with members and non-members alike, according to Ingeborg Loon, International Engagement Manager and Executive Officer at Acpet (the Australian Council for Private Education and Training), which has, accordingly, expanded its workshops and webinars for 2013 with an even greater emphasis on business development and compliance with the national standards for VET, higher education and international sectors.
English Australia (EA) is also increasing its professional development initiatives. The Action Research in Elicos programme, in partnership with Cambridge Esol, continued, with six projects exploring aspects of assessment. It also ran a series of workshops on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR); and its Victoria branch developed EA’s first professional development Skype event.
Meanwhile, ABLS (the association of British Language Schools), the UK-based association that focusses on providing support and information to members via networking events and the sharing of best practice, established a new training partnership with the Accreditation Body for Language Services, which, says chair, Ben Whittaker, “will add value to our membership, with the introduction of regular training days and workshops increasing the level of support on offer”.