|'Overall, the conference was very successful,' said Kristen van der Poel of Fiyto, who said that numbers were up on attendance figures of last year, although slightly down on 2002. 'Considering that the industry has been hit hard with tragic world events over the past two to three years, it is very encouraging,' she said, adding that 81 organisations attended WYSTC for the first time.
Tom Allen of Zip Travel, which has branches in Eastern Europe, commented, 'As always this was a good conference. The addition of breaks for the seminars was very good, and provided a chance to attend. The computer booking system [for business appointments] had some flaws but worked for us.' A computerised booking system organises appointments between buyers and sellers and has proved controversial in the past. Oksana Golovina of Evmar agency in Estonia said it saved a lot of time, but if the other party rejected a meeting, she was unable to fill the slot with another company of her choice.
During the conference, Fiyto and ISTC announced their intentions to merge both associations into one. A steering committee has now been appointed.
Seminars organised during the event included a roundtable discussion between Alto members on marketing materials and one on US visa policy for exchange students, which gave delegates a chance to put questions to a representative of the US State Department.
The venue on the outskirts of Madrid - the largest hotel in Europe - attracted criticism. 'The hotel was too impersonal and big and the location wasn't great,' said Andrew Mangion of EC - European Centre of English Language Studies in Malta. César Rennert of Rennert Bilingual in the USA agreed, but said he understood there had been a switch of venue from the USA because of visa concerns.
Tony Evans of LSF in France praised business opportunities but felt that the venue restricted socialising opportunity. 'I hope that WYSTC will be able to rediscover its trademark next year: doing good business and having the time of your life... together,' he said. Next year's event will be in Toronto, Canada.
FBI gains access to Sevis files
The FBI now has the right to access information about international students on the Sevis database, but only in cases where there is justification. The change in law, introduced in September, means that special permission does not need to be granted now to FBI agents who wish to access international student data, photographs and fingerprints.
Almost 300,000 students currently have their records in the Sevis central database, according to the Daily Californian. Now in its second year of operation, Sevis has processed details for over 770,000 students and exchange visitors. The FBI was also granted the right by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to access the US Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology System, known as US Visit. This system records biometric data of tourists entering the USA and was expanded in September this year to include the 27 countries whose nationals were previously exempt from being fingerprinted and photographed, if on a short-term trip, due to their visa waiver status (see page 8).
Since September, international students have also been required to pay US$100 to fund the operation of the Sevis system, prior to visa issuance and regardless of whether they are successful in gaining a student visa (see Language Travel Magazine, October 2004, page 6). The Sevis database records personal information such as a student's field of study in the USA, address and attendance status as well as their photograph and fingerprints.
Any student not turning up at their institution once entering the country is filed as a no-show. DHS reports that more than 2,900 students were noted as no-shows in the first year of operation. Subsequent investigations resulted in 155 arrests. A number of investigations also took place into school officials trying to fraudulently issue I-20 forms to international students wanting to gain entry to the USA.
Big merger in Australia
The Australian Centre for Languages (ACL) has taken over the Australian College of English (ACE) and Australian Campus Network (ACN) to form one of the largest private education and training groups in Australia. While the companies will continue to trade under their existing names for the time being, Helen Zimmerman, ACL's Managing Director, commented that the merger will allow the group to expand in both international and domestic markets.
'It positions the group to compete strongly for international English language, university, vocational and teacher training contracts burgeoning throughout Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America,' she said. 'This will further enhance the contribution that quality Australian education providers make to the economy.'
The ACE group, which has sites in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, is the longest established English language teaching company in Australia, operating since 1981. In 2003/2004, ACE taught over 6,000 students on various English or study tour programmes. The company also operates English language teaching units in private secondary schools. ACN is the commercial partner of La Trobe University, offering business tuition in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.
Managing Director of both companies, Alyson Moore, and Kazuhiro Araki, Executive Director, will continue in their roles. Zimmerman said, 'We are delighted to be working with [Moore and Araki] and their talented team. The businesses are highly complementary [to ACL] and will provide a varied choice of linkages and pathways for students.'
ACL teaches over 8,000 students annually and claims to be the largest private business of its kind in Australia.
ILC in Toronto closes
A Toronto-based language school closed down in September, leaving its students stranded. The one-time Capls member school, International Language Centre of Canada, left students out of pocket, according to a school source in the city, who told Language Travel Magazine that some students had paid in advance for up to one year of language tuition.
Most affected students were accepted at other schools in the city, but placement in alternative accommodation was proving more difficult to negotiate, according to the source, who said students were having to pay again for accommodation. International Language Centre of Canada, which was situated on the outskirts of the city, was believed to have a small number of students when it finally closed this year.
Linda Auzins at Capls said that the school had been taken over by new owners a couple of years ago and let its Capls membership lapse. She warned that some Canadian language schools were experiencing difficult times and that agents should be wary of excessive discounts offered in Canada.
Auzins added that all Capls members have a student placement policy in the event of closure. The ex-owner of ILC Canada could not be contacted at the time of going to press.
English Village opens in Korea
An new learning compound, English Village, has been established in South Korea's Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the capital city, Seoul. The teaching compound enforces a strict English-only rule throughout the complex, which accepts students from the province for a week-long intensive study period. From passing 'immigration control' to buying food or going to shops, students are expected to converse only in English. The project has been co-funded by Unicef, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Korea. The village has its own currency, 38 on-site teachers and imposes fines for breaking the English-only rule.