|Student numbers in many study destinations in 2006 were up on the previous year, but this belies the fact that competition in many outbound agency markets has been on the increase, according to readers around the world, all of whom are on the lookout for new and unique edges on their opponents.
In Sweden, Viktor Sundberg of Nomad Sprakresor points to increasing competition and a slightly dipping market as challenges “that we look forward to face” in 2007. “We are increasing the amount of students every year and continually finding new partner schools of high quality to work with,” he says.
In China, which has for some years been a market that everyone is watching, agencies point out that competition still exists and it is far from easy to make big gains in the market despite high interest in study abroad. Notwithstanding government investment in the education infrastructure which has led to more domestic places available for undergraduates, and reports in the media of returning graduates from overseas still facing competition in the employment sector, demand is consistent, says Nora Leow of Envision and Partners in Guangzhou. But she points out that they now compete with mainstream travel agencies, “which offer an extra low price” for studies overseas. “We have to find new programmes that attract clients,” says Leow, suggesting that volunteering programmes could be a new area that the agency will look into in the future.
In Indonesia, which is predominantly a higher education market, Sumarjono Suwito from Eduworld also acknowledges that competition among agencies has been stepping up recently. “For individual agents, student recruitment [to Australia] has declined [despite overall Indonesian numbers to Australia going up] which could be due to the establishment of numerous new agencies in the year 2006,” states Suwito.
“Looking ahead, there will be a sharp rise in competition among agencies as the market is very competitive at the moment, there are already numerous agents and many new agents,” he continues. “Red hot competiton is also rising between each different destination.” He says Singapore and Australia have been particularly aggressive in marketing themselves as education destinations during 2006.
“There are at least two new universities which recently opened and are cooperating with international universities in the form of twinning programmes or moderation,” observes Suwito, underlining another growing trend. As well as onshore recruitment, offshore delivery of education programmes became a growing area of focus in 2006. Two-step education will become a more common feature of the industry as the concept of starting one’s education in one country and finishing it in another embeds in students’ consciousness.
As well as sending students mainly to Malaysia and Singapore, Suwito says that the implication of having education institutions with links to foreign universities in Indonesia is “humungous, as new universities usually offer scholarships in their early years. Other older universities follow suit,” he adds, “by offering free laptops or scholarships as well, some upgrading their campuses by building new buildings”.
Asia as an education destination is fast evolving. As well as posing significant competition to Western countries in the international education arena, the Philippines in particular is positioning itself as a value for money English language teaching destination (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2006, pages 20-22). The Philippine government has been backing the sector and English language training in the country has proved popular with Korean students in particular, who see the country as a springboard for further study in another English language speaking country.
Meanwhile, language schools around the world continue to make university pathways one of their areas of focus when marketing overseas. Study Group continues to reposition itself as a company with excellent links into further study opportunities. This year, it announced new link-ups with four UK universities, operating international study centres on their campuses and running international preparation year programmes (see Education Travel Magazine, September 2006, page 53).
All major workshops organised for the agency industry also promise a higher education focus too now. English UK has rebranded its workshop as StudyWorld from 2007, announcing a new broader remit from next year, following the likes of Icef and Alphe.
Working and living
Another industry avenue that received significant commercial attention this year was the work experience and internships/volunteering sector, broadly termed Work & Travel. Many agencies reported growing interest in this fastest rising sector and Language Travel Magazine announced it would launch a bi-monthly magazine, Work Wise, from February next year.
Aspect Education, another global education company, launched its Opus Paid Work and Travel programme this year, available in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Fiona Mous at Aspect says that it has been well received by students, agents and employers alike. “We decided to launch the Opus paid work and study programme because of a growing demand from our partners,” she says. “The student gets the benefit of an affordable learning experience that is bigger than the classroom and which will open doors to a successful career.”
Regina Sperling, Assistant for International Programmes at World Study in Brazil, says, “Work and study programmes are increasing in popularity. It is a world trend to now have a combination of study and work experiences.” She continues, “It is an interesting programme area because participants have the opportunity to improve their language skills, gain exposure to living in a foreign country as well as gain practical work experience.”
The Global Work Experience Association (Gwea) held its second annual workshop for the sector and reported a growing membership. Fiyto, the umbrella organisation that Gwea fits into, also announced another new sub-association this year, earmarking another growth area for the future accommodation. Staywyse will group together specific accommodation providers active in the sector and put educators in touch with third party accommodation agencies.
Accommodation is an industry hot potato in some countries an area that has benefited recently from investment by third parties and from education institutions themselves. A shortage of host families in Malta, for example (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2006, page 6) or Dublin, as reported, also served to remind schools that long-term planning or commercial partnerships are needed.
In central London, a company called Nido launched itself, promising investment into state-of-the-art accommodation facilities, offering studio or shared apartments within a large block to individual students and extra services such as wi-fi or cleaning. Anna Coverdale at Nido says that the concepts may be taken to other cities, “in particular Paris, Milan, Barcelona and possibly Asia”.
Buyouts and takeovers
While it was an industrious year with new avenues of interest gaining in importance, it was also a busy year for takeovers and acquisitions, particularly in the language school sector. UK-based OISE was at the forefront of activity, with takeovers of several older well established schools; SES Folkestone and Scanbrit School of English in the UK and then in Canada, Hawthorn Vancouver and Centre Linguista, which has schools in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto (see Language Travel Magazine, November 2006, page 6).
Growing Malta-based group EC bought out Boston Language College in Cape Town, South Africa, and St Giles extended its global reach into Canada with the purchase of Canadian Business English Institute, based in Vancouver, BC. Another older UK school, Salisbury School of English, was sold to the Torquay-based IH-Wels Group in the UK, while ISI Ireland was sold to its old Marketing Manager in Dublin.
The sale of Study Group earlier this year was significant for the language school sector as it marked outside investment coming into the industry via Champ Private Equity and Petersen Investments. Study Group was sold to enable a future growth strategy, said Group Marketing Director, Nick Tellwright (see Language Travel Magazine, October, page 6).
Most recently, Washington Post-owned Kaplan’s acquisition of Aspect marked the latest industry merger and more conglomeration (see page 7).
On the agency side, there was also activity in 2006, with shares in school companies being bought as well as larger agencies fostering deals with smaller enterprises. In Korea, IAE announced ambitious expansion plans in Asia and struck a deal with an Indian company to have market presence there (see Language Travel Magazine, August 2006, page 10). Carpe Diem and TravelWorks in Germany have announced that they have sold to big corporate money too a large mainstream tour operator based in the UK that has an interest in adventure travel (see page 10).
All this activity underlines that there is confidence in the performance of student travel and language training overseas. Till Gins, Managing Director of OISE, told Language Travel Magazine that he was confident in the future of the industry, despite some predictions that demand for English language training in particular will change as in-country learning becomes more established at school (see Language Travel Magazine, May 2006, page 6). “It’s possible that language schools might move more into other forms of education,” says Gins. “We already have a sixth-form college at Basil Paterson [in Edinburgh] and one in Newbury and they are doing well. I can see us expanding or widening our scope of the kind of education we offer.”
Governments improving immigration routes to their countries for bona fide visitors have also helped the growth of the dynamic youth and student travel sector. The link between temporary or short-stay visitors and potential long-term migrants is increasingly being made, with Canada and Scotland both ushering in policies designed to enable students to take up long-term work rights in the country once they have studied there.
The UK has announced that a visa system linked to language school accreditation will definitely come into force by April 2009 (see Language Travel Magazine, October 2006, page 6) and the new sponsor-tied visa should make it easier for genuine language schools in the country to recruit students. The UK government also launched the second phase of the Prime Minister’s Initiative, introduced in order to encourage more international students to study in the UK now known as the PMI 2 (see Language Travel Magazine, June 2006, page 6).
In Malta, language school association Feltom has been successful in lobbying the government to issue a special visa for students, which will enable them to stay in the country for up to a year, instead of the previous limit of 30 days, without renewal. Kathleen vom Schloss Cremona, Managing Director of Inlingua School of Languages in Sliema says, “This will definitely create more business for Malta as it will avoid the hassle of having to extend the visa every month and having to pay a fee for an extension. We experienced no problems this summer, visa applications were received on time and the visas were mainly accepted.”
In Australia and Ireland, amendments were made to work rights for certain students that are certain to benefit the market. In Australia, rules for holders of working holiday visas were changed so that they can now study for up to four months under the terms of this visa. The Australian government also announced that graduating foreign students could stay and work on a temporary work visa (see Language Travel Magazine, July 2006, page 7).
In Ireland, a working holiday deal signed with Japan means that Japanese students can work in Ireland for up to 12 months. English language schools in the country are expected to develop programmes to accommodate working holiday visa holders (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2006, page 7).
Finally, even the recalcitrant US immigration department announced it was keen to welcome genuine visitors. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, announced early in the year that student visas would be issued 120 days prior
For some end of year fun
Language Travel Magazine has a rogues’ gallery of industry types all of whom are well known in the industry. But can you recognise them from their younger years? Answers on page 12.
A B C
D E F
G H I