December 2009 issue

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Ireland’s high costs

While high business costs in Ireland and the global economic downturn have contributed to a difficult 2009 for the English language teaching industry in Ireland, schools are looking at ways to ensure quality and choice whilst keeping costs low in 2010. Gillian Evans reports.

It has been a tough year for the English language teaching industry in Ireland. The global recession, high costs in Ireland and the comparative strength of the euro against the pound sterling have been compounded by visa issuance problems and the global swine flu scare. These factors have, according to Justin Quinn at the Centre of English Studies (CES) in Dublin, combined to make “this year one of the toughest that we have had for a long time”. As a result, student numbers at CES fell by 25 per cent this year compared with last year, with the worst affected nationalities being Spanish, Korean and Brazilian.

At EFL Ireland in Waterford, Richard McMullen reports a dramatic 60 per cent drop in student numbers in 2009. “[This was] mostly due to a Spanish government contract cancelling as late as June 13 for a July arrival,” he relates. “Our previous agents from Spain were funded largely by banks and they cancelled their reservations early in the year.”

Francis Crossen at the Dublin School of English in Dublin says that as 85 per cent of their intake is from the EU/EEA area they have been particularly badly affected by the economic downturn. He also notes, “’Walk-in’ bookings for part-time classes are down by about 80 per cent on last year – likely due to migrants fleeing the death throes of the Celtic tiger.”

The adverse business climate in Ireland has claimed a number of casualties. Liffey Linguistics in Dublin, which closed in June, was one of around five or six language schools that were forced to cease operations because of difficult trading conditions. Competition has also been intensifying in recent years. “Language schools have always been very proactive at recruiting from new markets and this did not escape the notice of institutes of further education and third level colleges and universities,” observes Crossen. “As a result there has been a massive increase in marketing efforts from those sectors.”

For the schools that have managed to buck the trend, it was, nevertheless, hard work to drum up enrolments. Patrick Creed, School Director of Bridge Mills Galway Language Centre in Galway, reports, “[Student] numbers were the same as last year, but it was a lot more work to get the same number of students into the school.”

With students watching their pennies, Muireann Neylon at Clare Language Centre and EIBS in Ennis has noticed a trend towards cheaper programmes. “When money is tight people have to economise and that can mean taking shorter courses or less costly courses,” she explains. Although junior numbers at Clare Language Centre were “as good as ever”, according to Neylon, students opted for the less expensive general courses rather than the premium priced products such as English with horse riding.

Language schools throughout Ireland are striving to cut costs while maintaining quality and choice for students. “We are reducing prices in-line with reduced costs and improved planning and management,” reports McMullen. “Students and agents want better value and more options. We are addressing these on an individual needs basis.”

Barbara Connelly at Atlantic School of English & Active Leisure in Cork says that in a bid to attract business in such difficult times they are freezing course prices for 2010 for the third consecutive year. In addition, she says, “Students will be offered free English lessons of up to 10 hours per week during our three-times yearly Trinity College London validated CertTesol course which runs alongside our English courses.”

Product diversification is also important, says Crossen. “[Our] immediate focus is on new products and markets. [We have] started offering an e-learning product and bookings are strong.”

Agents have a vital role to play in the revival of the Irish ELT market. Crossen notes that while a higher proportion of students are booking directly via the school, others seek the services of agents “that provide more attention to their clients and their needs”.

Regulatory changes

In addition to a tough operating environment, schools in Ireland are also up against restrictive visa issuance regulations. Muireann Neylon at Clare Language Centre & EIBS in Ennis claims that Ireland’s immigration policies have severely hampered the growth of its ELT market. “I have spent a lot of time and money on various international marketing efforts in Thailand, China and Turkey over the years and my enrolments have not been brought to a successful conclusion due to visa refusals for these countries,” she relates.

Earlier this year the Irish government published a discussion paper on the reform of the student immigration system, which includes 20 proposals to curb the abuse of the system. It includes limiting to five years the time a student from outside the EEA can spend in Ireland as a student, with a limit of two years for students in further education or on a language course.

Part of the proposals is also to tighten up quality standards, with the development of a Q mark for all English language providers. While broadly welcomed by the industry, there is some concern over how this will be implemented. Francis Crossen at Dublin School of English points out that non-Acels accredited schools can teach up to 50 students per class. “If these courses can continue to be offered under a Q Mark then I feel we would be better off with our current system where we can distance ourselves from those operators,” he said.

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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





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English Australia  
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IH Xi'an
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LAL Language
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Twin Group (
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Queen Ethelburga's
SUL Language
University of Essex -

International House
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MEI Ireland  

Kai Japanese
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Dominion English

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EF Language
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Inlingua Language
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Celtic School  

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