As ever, it was a lively year in the study abroad industry, and nowhere was this more apparent than in Canada. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that 2012 was a record year, passing the 100,000 international student mark for the first time. But another of his statements changes to the International Student Program led to greater political manoeuvring (see STM March 2013, page 7). Proposed amendments included enhanced student work rights, but it was the plan to pass responsibility of accrediting institutions able to accept student visa students over to provincial level that left a question mark, with vocational colleges in particular concerned about inconsistent designation across the country.
Extended deliberations with industry meant that, at the time of writing, a start date for the legislation was not yet confirmed. Nonetheless, Languages Canada (LC) has worked with regional governments to ensure that the language sector is well positioned under the new system, and warmly welcomed Nova Scotia becoming the first province to regulate language schools (July, page 7). “This is a milestone for language education in Canada,” said Gonzalo Peralta, LC Executive Director.
Then in the summer, STM was contacted by a Russian agency advising the damage that rotating embassy strikes of Canada’s Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers were heavily impacting on outbound business. “The year of 2013 has had two polar tendencies: growth in the number of students, but huge delays in visa issuance to Canadian summer language courses,” said Igor Mishurov of Students Intenational. The effect of the six-month strike seemed inconsistent across different markets, but the longer-term, reputational impact in Russia could be substantial, warned Mishurov.
South of the border in the USA, a historic agreement on the usage of commission payments for international recruitment by universities was finally reached by the National Association of College Admission Counselling (Nacac), following a two-year study. After threatening a ban in 2011, Nacac wisely acknowledged the widespread, established use of agents and some of the related benefits (November, page 7). The Statement of Principles of Good Practice was amended to say members who choose to use agents “will ensure accountability, transparency and integrity”. Elsewhere in the USA, concerns were raised by educators after the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) tightened rules regarding conditional offers, meaning that separate I-20 visa documents would need to be issued for different levels of study, and attempted to define bridge programmes. Patricia Juza, Immediate Past Vice President for Advocacy at English USA, was concerned SEVP was creating educational, not immigration, policy. “Will schools have the flexibility to provide programming which is in the best interest of individual students?” she asked.
Brazilian agency association Belta issued a strong riposte to a draft Senate immigration bill in the USA that threatened to severely curtail the J-1 exchange programme by classifying participants as “workers” and agents as “foreign labour contractors”, and prohibiting the collection of agent/sponsor fees (August, page 7). Carlos Robles, Belta President, urged legislators to recall the origins of the J-1 scheme, “Our members promote cultural exchange programmes that fulfil the intended objectives of the US Government to provide young people with positive experiences that last a lifetime.” This lobbying, along with the World Youth Student & Educational Travel Confederation and other bodies in the exchange sector, successfully lead to the measures being dropped in the final Senate bill (September, page 7).
In Australia it was more a case of government inactivity that was prompting agitation from the industry. Ahead of the general election, the peak bodies joined forces and called on government to restore competitiveness and “embrace proportional regulation” a reference to the long-promised extension of visa privileges to “low-risk” non-university providers. “The time for reviews and studies has passed. Too many already clog the desks and inboxes of industry decision makers, with good recommendations remaining unimplemented,” said a statement. With the new liberal government making pro-industry noises, it may have paid dividends.
There were also signs of positive government engagement from agents in China. The China Overseas Study Service Alliance (Cossa) was created with the assistance of Beijing-based association Bossa to serve smaller agencies outside the major cities (April, page 8), with the hope that through close government relations, this would become a prototype national association in what is most destinations’ largest source market.
In September’s cover story we examined mergers and takeovers, and notable examples during 2013 were the Loyalist Group in Canada continuing to expand its portfolio, with KGIC its largest acquisition to date; Ideal Education Group expanding its suite of Spanish language brands with the purchase of Academia Columbus; and ISIS Education buying United International College, London. However, the EAC junior centre brand was closed down by German-owned travel conglomerate TUI Travel the remaining languages schools and junior centres in the company’s portfolio rebranded as Experience English.
In the UK it was a relatively quiet 12 months, compared with the shifting legislative landscape of recent years and 2012’s Olympics, an event English UK blamed for a decline in student numbers at private member institutions. The Home Office acknowledged that the student visitor visa route was working well, and also permitted six weeks of language study on a visitor visa (November, page 6), the ramifications of which for agency business remain to be seen.
A report on the FE college sector by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills revealed a decline of over 20 per cent in sector income from non-EU student tuition fees, a trend backed up by the government’s migration data. Indeed, a first warning sign came for universities in an actual reduction of non-EU postgraduate students in 2011/12: the first drop in 16 years.
One sector of international education that shows no sign of slowing down, though, is the international pathways. There were new partnerships announced in the USA and UK for Into, Study Group and Kings Colleges. The London School of Business and Finance entered a congested marketplace by partnering with the Northern Consortium UK chain of universities, and a new pathway provider emerged in the shape of Shorelight Education.
The pathway sector also expanded beyond the mainstay UK & US markets: ELS opened a first European study centre at Skema Business School, France; CEG and Study Group both entered into partnerships with Dutch universities; and My Study in France appeared as the first French-language university pathway programme. firstname.lastname@example.org
New school openings - Asia rises
We reported a swathe of new centre openings during 2013, particularly in the junior market which seemed particularly buoyant in the UK, USA and Ireland. And a few school openings across Asia caught the eye. Lexis ventured outside of Australia with a Korean language school, attempting to tap into demand for a destination underserved in agency portfolios. “We’ve been genuinely taken aback by the response from our agents around the world,” said Ian Pratt, Managing Director. In Japan, Genki Japanese and Culture School saw strong enough demand to open a Tokyo branch, while Mandarin House established a second school in Shanghai, China. On top of this was further evidence of Asia positioning itself as an alternative English language destination, with a major Japanese HR firm moving into agency relations by establishing a portfolio of Asia-based English schools and the Philippines serving ELT intent with the opening of a specialist executive school.
As student data returns for the previous year were reported during 2013, it was Malta’s ELT sector that had most to shout about: an 18 per cent rise according to government statistics, with exceptional growth from Asia and Africa (June, page 6). Genevieve Abela, Feltom CEO, said, “We feel it comes from a collective effort by the association and the government who have been working towards a common goal. Together we have invested in quality marketing and quality standards.” Fedele, meanwhile, could lift some economic gloom in Spain with an increase of nearly 25,000 student weeks over 2011 (June, page 7).
Australia welcomed some positive signs in student data after a recent lean period. With the exception of the beleaguered VET sector, there were positive commencement trends visible across the board in monthly data updates during 2013, most significantly in the Elicos segment, which also saw total enrolments rising. Visa application increases in data released by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship also signposted further recovery. However, high dollar exchange issues seemed to transfer to neighbouring New Zealand, where enrolment news was more mixed.
Global demand for overseas higher education continues its upward trajectory, with the latest data from the OECD recording a total of 4.3 million students enrolled in higher education outside their home country in 2011, a five per cent increase (September, page 8), while the Open Doors report signalled an all-time high of overseas scholars in the USA in 2011/12.