December 2002 issue

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English language epidemic in Korea

The popularity of English language learning in Korea is rampant, as statistics show that more and more Korean nationals are choosing to study abroad. A recent report in the Korea Times revealed that 203,000 children under the age of 15 travelled abroad for study between July and September last year. The Bank of Korea reported a deficit in the travel balance in July this year of US$409 million - an all-time high.

The desire to acquire English language skills seems to be increasingly strong. In September, an English language cable TV channel was launched in Korea, which broadcasts for 18 hours a day and offers programmes relating to studying English, such as business English, Toeic and Toefl exams, and how to prepare for university entrance exams.

In an online survey conducted by Joblink, an Internet-based employment market analyst in Korea, English language skills were reported to be the most significant challenge when it came to getting a job, according to 1,170 job seekers interviewed. Forty per cent regarded English language ability as their main hurdle to gaining a job and 54 per cent said they spent most of their time improving their English fluency.

In the Korean press, a new name has also been given to fathers who remain at home alone, while their children study overseas with mothers accompanying them. 'Wild goose daddies' is the translation of the term, which describes a growing number of fathers living in office/hotels (called officetels) in Korea while their families are abroad, normally in English-speaking countries such as the USA or UK.

The associated 'wild goose industry', such as laundry services and housemaid jobs in officetels, is reported to be booming. An article in the Korea Times states, 'This phenomenon is the product of a distorted public education system and Korean parents' zeal for their children's education, with the boom to learn English making it even worse.'

Agents in the country agree that enthusiasm for study abroad at all ages is high. Joe H Chang, of New Ivy Overseas Education Center in Korea, said that mothers often accompanied their children abroad, 'usually for a year or six months'. He added, 'In some areas of Seoul, mothers get together and send their children as a group and each mother [stays with] the group for a two or three month period.'

Jay H Yang, at Lucky Education Centre, added, 'There are so many students who want to go overseas with their mother - usually to Australia or the USA'.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there have been calls in the press to dampen demand for English language education overseas by making it available in Korea itself. This coincides with the Korean government's aims to attract more international students into the country's higher education system (see Language Travel Magazine, November 2002, page 24). Professor Kang Hee-joon, of Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the USA, writing in the Korea Times, said, 'Instead of sending away thousands of kids, Korea can bring a part of America into Korea. Rather than letting so many young children go abroad, why not invite in English instructors from abroad?'

Kang advocates using university facilities and dormitories to establish summer schools, under a government directive. He points out that it will be costly to pay for native English teachers, counsellors, room and board, but the overall cost would be less expensive for the student customers. 'Moreover, [students] will all spend money within Korea [and] teachers will also spend some of their earnings in Korea,' he pointed out. 'Soon, higher education markets will be open for foreign competition in Korea. A facility for good English training in Korea will enhance international competitiveness.'

MEI~Relsa website gets a facelift

The English language teaching association in Ireland, MEI~Relsa, has overhauled its website to make it more user-friendly, with a searchable database of schools listed by region and course type. Launched in August, the website also contains an agents' area, which allows agents to sign up to the MEI~Relsa mailing list and make contact with the association.

Gillian Nother, Manager of the association, said that information on courses and start dates is now frequently updated. 'Members think the new site is fantastic and user-friendly,' she added.

Nother also reported a good turnout for the MEI workshop, which was held in September. Seventy-two agents from 19 countries attended, with 91 per cent taking part in the fam trips that followed the one-day workshop. Thirty Irish schools participated at the event. 'This was the second consecutive year that the workshop was held in the beautiful mediaeval surroundings of Dromoland Castle in the Shannon region,' said Nother. 'The banquet on the Sunday evening set a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for the few days ahead.'

Agent Berth Olofsson, from Language Partner in Sweden, who attended the workshop, said, 'I will certainly recommend my colleagues around the world to participate... the workshop was well organised and exciting.'

Acquisitions and mergers in the marketplace

There have been a number of acquisitions and mergers in the industry. The European Centre of English Language Studies (Ecels) in Malta has acquired the established Brighton-based UK language school, House of English. The buy-out means that the EC Group, which owns Ecels, is moving into the UK market for the first time.

Andrew Mangion, Chief Executive of the EC Group, said, 'Our agent feedback showed very positive support for a new EC centre in the UK. Over 75 per cent of our existing partners stated that they would seriously consider working with the EC in the UK.' Mangion added that the EC Group decided on Brighton because 'a coastal city with a fresh and vibrant atmosphere, fast access to London and value for money fits the EC model'. The Brighton school will operate under a joint EC/House of English brand until January 2004.

Elsewhere, Tamwood International College in Vancouver, Canada, has taken over the operations of Whistler Language Institute in Whistler, also in British Columbia. 'This takeover is very exciting for our clients and for Tamwood,' said Matt Collingwood, President of Tamwood. 'We will now be expanding our offering of the popular English courses for adults in Whistler to a year round basis.'

In Mexico, Spanish language school chain, Don Quijote, is opening a new branch to add to its existing schools in mainland Spain, Tenerife and Peru. Opening in March 2003, the school will be located in the central university city of Guanajato. David Stratten, Manager of Don Quijote UK, said, 'Our expansion into Mexico is opening up a new destination for the discerning traveller.'

And in October, the UK summer centres operated by the company International House Rickmansworth-Elco merged with the Wels group, which operates the International House centres in Bath, Torquay, San Diego and Sydney.

Tony Thompson, who founded the Elco centres and managed them for 20 years, is now working as a senior consultant for the Wels group. Martin Lemon, Managing Director of Wels, commented, 'With these [three] centres, our group can now offer an excellent choice of centre and course type.' The three Elco centres are based at Rickmansworth, Newland Park and Ardingley College, all within easy reach of London airports.

Historic enlargement of EU likely to happen

The European Union (EU) is set to expand to embrace a 25-state union, a move which has huge political and historic significance and major ramifications for the language travel industry.

The European Commission approved a report in October recommending 10 countries ready for membership. While there are still some hurdles to overcome before accession in 2004 is finalised, political commentators now believe that Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lativa, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will become member states. Romania and Bulgaria may also join in 2007.

Karel Klusak of Intact agency in the Czech Republic pointed out the implications that EU membership has for students in his country. The drive to learn foreign languages had started, he said, 'because we know we will need good English and German, possibly other languages'.

Klusak also anticipated more students enrolling at state colleges in the UK, 'which have grants for EU students', and interest in competitively-priced degree courses in Germany, France and Spain.

ETS launches English test for business in China

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which delivers the Toefl exam, is developing an English language exam specifically for business interests in China. Together with Beijing Topeak International Education Investment, ETS will develop a testing system that is based on a global standard. but also appropriate for Chinese businesses.

Wu Yongke, at China's State Economic and Trade Commission, said he hoped the test would encourage professionals to improve their English ability. Kurt Landgraf, Chief Executive of ETS, added, 'The Chinese government has challenged key industry managers and workers to become proficient in English.'

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