||An evaluation of the year 2007 reveals mostly positive trends in the industry with new sectors, such as work experience programmes, gaining ground and more students than ever deciding to travel overseas for language learning purposes. Agent Antonio Bacelar from Via Mundo Intercambio Turismo in Brazil says that business has been booming for a variety of reasons. “Visas this year haven’t affected us as much as last year,” he says. “The fact that the dollar is low is contributing to the large amount of people travelling overseas. Due to this, we haven’t had a low season this year but a high and middle season!”
Elsewhere in Latin America, Lasse Josephsen from Grupo Viva y Aprenda in Colombia agrees that visa problems for some of the major markets have eased up this year. “The visa for the UK, our strongest market, has become much easier to deal with over the last year, which has helped enormously for the UK not to lose out to Australia [as a destination],” he says. However, he notes that the growth of other English language teaching destinations among Colombian students continues to be hampered by visa problems. “Some years ago, we started offering destinations such as Ireland and Malta but complicated visa processes and the fact that students cannot work [makes] students reluctant to choose these destinations,” he says.
Demand for courses in new destinations has increased in some student markets this year. Jan Passof from Star Travel in Russia confirms, “We have had [requests] for a few new destinations this year Japan, China, the Czech Republic. We are working on requests for the Philippines and Argentina at the moment.” Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Tom Smith from the Oxford Oriental School of Languages says that less traditional markets, such as South Africa and Ireland, are gaining in popularity with students due to the strength of the UK pound.
One of the more exciting developments in the industry is the establishment of English courses in new destinations such as Cyprus and Fiji. Malvern House, based in the UK, launched the Language Explorer, its first summer programme for juniors in Cyprus, this year and Stephan Roussounis at the school believes that this new destination has lots of untapped potential.
Fiji is another destination that is unknown for its language travel industry, although Mario Negretti from South Pacific Free Bird Institute in Fiji, which is a group of islands situated in the South Pacific Ocean 1,100 miles north of New Zealand, predicts this will change in the future. “We had 300 students altogether in 2005 and it jumped up to 1,000 last year,” he says. “Now we are expecting over 2,000 students this year. Our competitive prices make study abroad one-third of what it will cost to study English in the UK.”
One of the benefits of less-well known language travel destinations is the fact that they are often a lot cheaper than those with a higher profile and this factor is contributing to South Africa’s increasing popularity as a destination for language learners. In 2007, South Africa has continued to raise its profile within the industry, not least because Cape Town was the venue for Ialc’s annual workshop in April (see July 2007, page 12). Two South African language schools also featured for the first time as nominees in the LTM Star Awards this year, when Good Hope Studies and Cape Studies in Cape Town both reached the shortlist for the LTM Star English language school Southern Hemisphere.
Andrew Mangion from EC, which opened a branch in Cape Town last year, said, “There is huge growth potential for South Africa as a destination for language learning. Looking ahead, Cape Town will become increasingly attractive as a destination for 18-to-35 year old independent travellers, and in addition to the more adventurous students. South Africa will get a lot of exposure from the Fifa World Cup in 2010, helping to create a gradual shift in the market from adventure to mainstream travel.”
Demand for courses in non-English speaking destinations has also grown in 2007, and, in particular, Chinese is pinpointed as a growth language in the future. A British Council report released late in 2006 showed that 20 million people worldwide were learning Mandarin and this figure was expected to rise to 100 million in the next few years. English language school chain EC reacted to this trend by launching its Discover China programme for 14-to-18 year olds, where students undertake a two-or three-week course in order to learn Mandarin and also see some of the country’s famous sites. As the range of study destinations expands, so too has the range of nationalities studying overseas. This year saw the first education fair to be held in Uzbekistan when international agency Global Study Company hosted a two-day event for students at two locations in the country (see June 2007, page 10).
Mergers and acquisitions
As business flourishes in the language travel industry, the activities of language school chains give clues as to recent trends. Zoni, International House and EC all acquired new schools this year with Zoni acquiring its first Canadian school in Vancouver (see February 2007, page 7), EC moving in to the USA for the first time (see November 2007, page 6) and International House opening a new school in Northern Ireland (see July 07, page 7). This continual drive to offer new destinations in a range of continents to agents and students shows the market demand for new destinations and multi-destination courses under the umbrella of a chain brand.
The acquisition of Cambridge Education Group in the UK by a venture capitalist this year also marks a continuing trend of private investment in the industry (see August 2007, page 6) following the buyout of Study Group last year.
Kaplan, whose acquisition of school chain Aspect made the headlines in 2006, is showing no signs of slowing down its expansion plans and announced a number of new ventures in April. A new Kaplan-run international college on the campus of the University of Liverpool in the UK opened in September, while a link-up with an education provider in China will see the school chain offer in-country academic preparation courses for students wanting to gain entry to 11 UK universities (see July 2007, page 7).
Agencies too have been expanding their reach and exploiting the advantages to be had with multinational offices. IAE Global, originally based in Korea, continued its global expansion plans by forming a partnership with Mexican Agency Edu Lynks (see February 2007, page 11). Outside Korea, IAE now 35 branches or joint venture partner offices in China, India, Nepal and Mexico. Cactus in the UK launched its first off-shore office in New York, USA and highlighted the potential for business growth in this country (see page 10).
However, not all agencies have fared well this year. At the beginning of 2007, one of the USA’s biggest agencies, Amerispan, faced collapse leaving several schools with unpaid fees (see March 2007, page 6). The agency’s owner and co-founder John Slocum blamed the events of September 11 2001 for a downturn in business and said that the agency had never recovered. Antonio Anadon formed Don Quijote USA, bought the assets and eventually reached a financial arrangement with affected schools (see May 2007, page 7).
Rise of work placements
The language travel industry is continually diversifying but this year in particular saw the international work experience sector gain strength. In February, Language Travel Magazine launched its own Work Wise section of the magazine dealing solely with news and issues relating to this sector and providers and agents report that student demand for work programmes has continued to grow. Tommi Muttonen from Twin Group based in London, UK, says that the turnover of their work experience department increased by 30 per cent on 2006 figures.
“Twin’s PEP sandwich course has been by far our most successful programme this year having grown over 100 per cent against 2006,” he says. “Of our new products, TeachUK, which places graduates as teaching assistants and language assistants at UK primary and secondary schools has been the most prominent. WorkLondon, introduced midway through 2007, which offers paid positions for a minimum of six months in London in sectors such as retail and hospitality, is also now beginning to attract some interest.”
The development of this sector is very much dependent on the work permit laws of different countries. In January, Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union (EU), which considerably enhanced the work experience and language learning opportunities for these nationalities within Europe. Muttonen says that these markets have seen “extraordinary growth” this year and Daniela Pavoni from Mirunette Viaggio in Romania agrees that she has seen demand for work experience and language programmes from clients increase throughout 2007, due to “the desire of the Romanian people to invest in education abroad”.
New opportunities are continuing to open up as providers enhance and add to their product ranges. Earlier this year, Twin expanded its placements by starting to offer unpaid placements in Ireland for EU nationalities (see Work Wise, April 2007, page 48), while UK-based agency Cactus expanded its work experience opportunities in Latin America by adding placements in Chile and Mexico (see Work Wise, June 2007, page 41).
Associations have also been working hard in 2007 with a number of developments in this area. Most notably, Canadian school associations Capls and CLC merged to form Languages Canada (see May 2007, page 7), while in New Zealand, English New Zealand and Appel joined forces to represent a united front for members (see June 2007, page 7).
With industry associations consolidating their efforts, much progress was made on the topic of school accreditation. At the beginning of the year, US school association AAIEP announced plans for the compulsory accreditation of all language schools (see February 2007, page 6), following the lead of many other countries that are similarly going down this route.
Language school BELS in Malta became the country’s first accredited school this year when it was awarded a certificate of accreditation by Feltom (see photo, top right, and April 2007, page 7). All Feltom members will have to be accredited by 2008 and the association has made great strides in this area, with Magister Academy becoming the second school to become accredited in August (see November 2007, page 10).
In the UK, the drive towards compulsory accreditation for language schools was taken a step further when the government declared that all international education providers, including language schools, must be accredited by either Accreditation UK, the British Accreditation Council (Bac) or the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (Asic) in order to be able to recruit student visa holders (see October 2007, page 6). From 2009, all language schools in the UK will have to be accredited by one of these organisations in order to be able to accept visa holders onto their courses.
Any move towards accreditation for all language schools is largely welcomed within the industry although French schools were spoilt for choice this year with two accreditation schemes being announced within a short time of each other (see September 2007, page 7).
An increased sense of solidarity in the agency industry can be felt this year with the appearance of two new agency associations as agents recognise the benefits of working together and raising standards. The Association of Consultants for International Students Singapore (Aciss) was formed at the very end of 2006 (see April 2007, page 10), while the Hong Kong International Education Consultants Association (HKIECA) had its official launch at the beginning of the year. Both associations are firsts for agents situated in these countries.
This year has also seen much in the way of technological developments, with the appearance of a number of tools for agents, schools and students. EdMedia and Icef launched Icef Online at the end of 2006 enabling agents and schools to share information and stay in touch via the Internet (see March 2007, page 10). The system was well received by both agents and schools, who are becoming increasingly confident about using technology to enhance their business services.
Our Direction feature on the increasing use of technology within the industry appeared in the September issue and highlights that skype, blogs, Internet booking systems and other such techniques are now commonplace among agents and schools. Hothouse Media launched its own online appointment booking service, Meeting Manager, early in the year (see May 2007, page 7) adding to the products available to make attending industry workshops easier.
Enhancing agent-school relationships was also the thinking behind the development of an online information service for boarding schools in the UK, which was launched at the British Boarding Schools Workshop in May. Schools using the service can access market information and receive advice on working with agents, while next year they will also be able to access an online database of agents and post information for participating agents.
When asked about how agency business will change in the future, Bacelar says that for Brazilians, the most important thing is the expense of courses. “It is very common for Brazilian students to search for a market where they are allowed to work during their English studies,” he says. “They see it as a way to improve their language skills and make some pocket money, making their overseas stay not so expensive.”
The cost of courses is a consideration noted by Passoff in Russia who says that most students choose short-term courses because they are more affordable. However, he notes that this is changing. “People begin to understand that long-term courses are more effective,” he says. “It is easier to get visas for such courses and in the future, I think the tendency will move to long-term courses.”
Meanwhile, Josephsen adds, “We are also receiving more and more requests for affordable specialised courses such as diplomas or certificates for four-to-12 weeks in marketing, medicine, business, graphic design etc. I can see language schools at some point would have to become more specialised in order to keep attracting clients.”
End of year quiz
For some end of year fun, Language Travel Magazine has obtained some pictures of well known faces in the industry and their offspring. Can you match the industry face to their child?
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8
A B C D
E F G H
Answers in Agency News