August 2008 issue

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Taking the industry’s pulse

What are the longer-term prospects for the language travel industry? Good – according to industry professionals and research analysts, although some expect a change in the way products are delivered or the languages that will be in vogue. Amy Baker reports.

There are trials, set-backs and success stories every year in the international education industry and one country may feel it is winning – or losing – market share because of the actions of another. But what about the longer-term prognosis for the industry as a whole?

In general, there is optimism from those in the English language teaching market and more guarded positivity from those in other language sectors. With more research into demand for education in an English context, it is a more assured affirmative that business in this sector is likely to grow in the future. However, agents are also in general agreement that other key language markets will prosper: Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese and Chinese are all mentioned.

Non-English outlook
In Russia, Jan Passof of Star Travel says, “The number of clients studying other languages has [already] increased – German, Chinese, Japanese. I think that in five-to-10 years time, there will definitely be more requests for Asian languages.” In Brazil, there is a general hike in demand for education abroad because of strong economic growth in the country, according to Victor Hugo Baseggio, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Central de Intercambio (CI). He says there is “a huge number of new potential [clients]” and predicts, “Spanish will firmly keep its second position.”

And at Worldsbestlanguageschools.com, Warwick White, whose clientele is mainly English-speaking, observes, “Spanish is becoming more and more popular, along with Japanese and also Mandarin.” He adds, “South America is a big destination for New Zealanders and Australians taking six months out to explore.”

Those languages not mentioned by any agencies canvassed as growing in demand include French or Italian. Indeed, at Offaehrte Sprachreisen in Germany, Ute Nanninga suggests that in five-to-10 years’ time, “English will remain the most requested foreign language, but French will pale in comparison to Spanish.”

At Fle.fr, which promotes learning French in France, Director, Gerard Ribot, ventures, “The French language teaching market will mainly focus on cultural and academic skills; learning French could give a different way of thinking in a multicultural world.” Eleri Maitland at French in Normandy adds, “I think that the market will be under the same pressures in France as worldwide. There is a place for well organised quality schools but the present broad depth of the offer will narrow as smaller/less well run schools disappear.” She points to the newly introduced accreditation schemes in France as gaining in importance.

In Italy, Matteo Savini represents Asils, the national association whose members are accredited by an Iso accreditation company, Uniter. He forecasts stable business in the mid-term, but suggests that while demand will be weaker from traditional markets such as the USA, Japan and Europe, it will pick up in newer markets.

“Interest in China, Russia and other ‘new’ locations will affect the language teaching market,” he opines, “especially because those countries can represent an interesting place for a career.” Savini believes that Italy could risk a slow decline in business and notes the need for “a lot of energy and time” to reverse such a situation.

Reasons behind English study
At the International Association of Language Centres (Ialc), Jan Capper, Executive Director, is in touch with language schools in all major destinations and expects the one key future trend to be a rise in demand for Chinese language tuition. She believes that Spanish will remain the second most requested language “for trade with Latin America and tourism”, but signals, “As the lingua franca of the international community, English will continue to dominate.”

Tatsu Hoshino, Executive Director of Global Partners Education Network in Japan, agrees with this prognosis and says that he has witnessed a change in reasons for studying English abroad. “Previously, self-development factors such as having a cross-cultural experience and/or making international friends were major motivations,” he says. “Recently, more realistic factors such as ‘using language skills to jump-start a successful career’ are popular.”

James Wilson-Fish, Executive Director of Language Studio in Russia, offers some more reasons for his clients wanting to learn this language. “Because it’s ‘cool’ to speak English,” he ventures. He adds to this list, “Being able to communicate with business partners, being able to communicate with the administration of public schools where [clients’] children study,” as other reasons for learning English.

He successfully taps into some of the major motivators fuelling language learning overseas and the growth in the language travel business: the cultural status of certain countries globally; demand for higher education overseas; the globalisation of business and English as common business language.

There are clear analogies between the globalisation of commerce and education, as highlighted by Nigel M Healey of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand in his paper, Is higher education really internationalising? He writes of global commerce, “The pace… is influenced by catalysts of enabling technologies, like information and communications technology and cultural homogenisaton through the spread of English as a common second language and the dominance of US television, film and music, as well as a liberal regulatory environment for trade and cross-border investment.”

All these elements contribute to building demand for English education overseas (and, in terms of culture, building preferences for particular study destinations). As important, however, is the issue of domestic higher education provision and population demographics in many student source countries. In turn, global migration and opportunity for success are associated reasons too.

Higher education catalyst
In many developing countries, there is simply not enough capacity in domestic higher education systems. In Vietnam in 2006, for example, the population numbered 82 million, of whom 22 million were of school-age, writes Healey. He cautions that with rapidly developing economies comes a fast-paced progress that can include tertiary education development – China has developed this sector rapidly – however, he acknowledges that there are considerable fixed costs and lead times needed to develop such an infrastructure.

In the meantime, he points to a phenomenon in certain countries whereby rapid economic development and soaring per capita income speeds up demand for higher education at the same time as a rising population continues to expand the school-leaving population. In India, for example, 150,000 students compete for the 1,200 general seats available at the country’s six prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIM).

Research by the British Council and IDP in 2004 suggested that global demand for international higher education places would increase from 2.4 million places in 2005 to 5.8 million in 2020, with annual growth of just over six per cent each year. Subsequent IDP research released last year, which followed up its 2003 report Global Student Mobility, lowered estimates of 7.2 million places in 2025 to 3.7 million. Nevertheless, in every scenario, a growth trend is anticipated and this will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on English language training.

And of those higher education places, the British Council estimates that just under half will be offered by the Main English-Speaking Destination Countries (MESDC) of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA. Not all international students will require preliminary English language tuition, but a substantial number will do so. Just over 70 per cent of demand for international higher education is expected to come from Asia, the world’s most populous and fastest growing region.

Government intervention
Government intervention in language learning or higher education clearly has an impact on education trends. Hoshino in Japan reports that English language learning will become compulsory for elementary school children in Japan in 2011, which he believes will boost the overall market for language learning experiences overseas.

In Spain, the decision to award scholarships to low-income sectors of the populace to learn English overseas had a significant impact on demand in 2007 and is expected to do so again this year (see LTM, February 2008, page 6).

In Saudi Arabia, many thousands of Saudi students have studied English abroad since the King Abdullah Scholarship Program was introduced in 2005. In the USA alone, Saudi Arabia was the second largest provider by student weeks for English language study in 2006 according to the Open Doors study.

Meanwhile, dedicated efforts into expanding higher education options in the Middle East are also likely to have an impact on demand for English tuition and an English-medium education. The Gulf Times reports that 64 per cent of the population in the six member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman) is under 16 years old and with government resources having been focused on primary and secondary-level schooling, demand cannot now be met for higher education in the region. In the past five years, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have all opened their first private universities with strong support from their governments.

The interesting point is that all new tertiary development is looking to the American model of education and US accreditation where possible. “Among the dozens of private universities that have been built in the region, it would be hard to find a single one that is not either in partnership or affiliated with an American university,” writes Sherin Deghady in the newspaper.

Moreover, both Qatar and UAE have announced plans to become a regional base for world-class higher education and Qatar – which so far has five US universities in its Education City – pays the set-up costs of international universities to attract world-class players to establish branches in the country. Qatari citizens accepted onto graduate courses that are identical to those offered by the host university in its home country also receive full tuition scholarships from the Supreme Education Council or can be sponsored by Qatari corporations, according to the report.

International education at home
Satellite branches of higher education institutions, franchising and twinning agreements represent a separate issue and one that is tangential to the business of language training. However, it is interesting to note that this is a sector that is expanding, particularly in Asia. Healey notes that there is little firm data about the extent of this activity but between 1996 and 2005, the UK’s Qualifications Assurance Agency (QAA) carried out 125 overseas institutional audits of UK-franchised degrees in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South Africa.

And in Australia, which is the only MESDC to record data relating to all off-shore activities of its universities, one-third of international students enrolled with Australian universities in 2003 were studying off-shore. This has implications for English language study and means that more tertiary-bound students may be likely to study English at home or in their own world region of origin if they are completing their studies (or some years of their studies) at academic institutions there.

This is particularly notable in various Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. These three destinations have picked up on a nascent demand for English language tuition and/or secondary and tertiary studies and are actively promoting themselves as international study destinations, with government backing (see LTM, June 2008, pages 24-28). In Malaysia, international student enrolments grew by almost a third from 2006 to 2007. So there is a new breed of competition for language schools in traditional destinations.

Experiential study
Meanwhile, the way in which language tuition is delivered is also changing. Work and study programmes that combine targeted language tuition with practical work experience, either paid or unpaid, is a big growth sector. Jana Jilkova of BCTT in the Czech Republic observes, “At the moment, especially younger students in their 20s or 30s are attending [courses], mainly for professional development. Students in secondary education and at university often take courses as part of their studies and there is rising interest in job shadowing.”

Also known as internships, working in a professional environment without remuneration but to gain appropriate skills is on the rise and the European Community’s standardised university degree programme now has one year of internship mandatory within its five-year framework (see page 17). Paid work programmes also enable more students to consider studying abroad as they can earn and study at the same time. These sectors now account for up to a quarter of total business across agencies, depending on the market (see bar graph, left).

A number of agencies also underline, however, that a significant proportion of clients are still focused on a holiday-style experience; a relaxed trip with a serious or enticing edge. “The main motivation for our clients to book with us is to improve their language in a holiday-like/leisurely atmosphere,” recounts Marielle Kleinbussink, Commercial Manager of Vinea Vakanties in the Netherlands, which specialises in placing clients up to 19 years old.

Baseggio at CI in Brazil relates, “Our customers are keen on the cultural experience combined with entertainment they gain when they go overseas to learn a language. We do not foresee much change ahead.” Meanwhile, at Star Travel in Russia, Passoff observes that the type of programmes requested is changing slightly – “clients like to combine their studies with something additional like English with the David Beckham Academy [football school] or Spanish with dance classes,” he says. “Clients realise that two weeks of learning a language does not change anything, so they have to take longer courses and of different intensity.”

The view from the UK

“The UK market is highly diversified – our top three source markets in 2007 accounted for only 27 per cent of student weeks, whereas most of our competitors have well over 40 per cent of their students from their top three country markets. We expect this to continue since the UK does reasonably well from all main regions of the world, and it is a major strength for us since we are not over-exposed to a downturn in any particular region. It is likely the pound will remain relatively weaker for the next two-to-three years, which will make the UK look more attractive on price. And the rising cost of aviation (not just fuel but passenger taxes and other costs) will tend to the disadvantage of Australia and New Zealand in particular. We will be keeping a close watch on the major changes in the UK visa system due early in 2009 to ensure that these do not depress demand.”

The view from the USA

“We see tremendous potential and significant growth in the USA. First of all, countries that are sending students have experienced relatively large gains in economic growth, especially in China. Secondly, nations like Korea and Taiwan are pressing hard to make English a true second language with students of all ages. Also, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian countries are beginning to either send or are sending again significant numbers of students. We also are very optimistic that the new US president and administration will be much more globally minded. This is evident in that all three of the remaining viable presidential candidates sent foreign policy advisors to Nafsa’s conference to engage in dialogue with [the industry]. In the USA, we face a legislative and executive body that chooses to put up barriers in the name of national security. The departments of State, Commerce, and even Homeland Security are very sympathetic to our schools, universities, and industry, but often their hands are tied by legislation that is far too insular and closed-minded.”

The view from Australia

“Australia has experienced strong growth in ELT for the last four years, with the growth driven by a range of factors, but one of the primary drivers at the moment is Australia’s need for skilled migrants. The Australian government has developed transparent pathways for international students to transition into migrant programmes and English language skills are a very important part of this transition. I think the global movement of people seeking employment opportunities will continue to drive the growth in demand for language training as language skills have been shown to be critical to employability and career progression. In addition to this cohort of students, Australia will continue to attract language students attracted by the multitude of other experiences that Australia has to offer. “

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Hartmann Gallus
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Answer English  
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ESL Language
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English Australia  
Fedele Spain  
Feltom Malta  
International House
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MEI-Relsa Ireland  
Quality English Ltd.  

Student Guard

Your World on

Malta Tourism

English Bay College  
International House
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Kaplan Aspect
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Professionals UK  
Twin Group  

Alphe Conferences  
Fedele Spain  
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English Language
Langports English
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Centre Linguista
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Hansa Language
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Eastbourne School
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Frances King
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International House
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IP International
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Kaplan Aspect  
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LAL Language
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Millfield School  
Queen Ethelburga's
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Study Group  
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Twin Group  
United International

French in Normandy
IH Nice  
Institut Linguistique

BWS Germanlingua
Carl Duisberg
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F+U Academy  
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International House
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Centre of English

Dilit - International

Kai Japanese
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EC English
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Melita Language

Unique New
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Babylon Idiomas  
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ESADE Executive
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Escuela de Idiomas
International House
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International House
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Malaca Instituto -
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ESL Ecole Suisses
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ALCC - American
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Global Immersions
TLA - The Language  
University of
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Zoni Language
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IH Montevideo  

Jakera Adventure

University of
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