Student choice about what and where to study is so much more varied now than it was 20 or 30 years ago and this is because of the ongoing development of the study abroad market. As more customers enter the marketplace, education providers start up in new locations or launch new programmes to better suit the potential needs of the client base, thus creating greater choice.
And as choice becomes greater, customers expect to use their choice in more empowering ways. They like to know what all the available options are and enjoy selecting a language school or programme that they believe is most appealing for them. Agents testify to this, although they note that clients still like to consult with an agency and ask their professional opinion before actually booking a course.
As the market matures, clients may take a language course more regularly too, and they get to know first-hand about different types of programme and school. One school representative in the north of England says, 'Having had to compete against the (popular) south of England, we find now that students and agents are looking for different destinations'.
Reasons for more students wanting to study abroad encompass economic issues, political factors and social trends. Another factor that can have a significant effect on the marketplace is government legislation on language learning and attempts to introduce language learning into the national curriculum at a younger age.
As more governments around the world see the benefits of a linguistically competent workforce, language study has been introduced at seven or eight years old. This trend has meant a higher number of junior clients wanting to study overseas and gain advantage in their school studies. As a result, this sector has evolved, with parent and child study combinations being introduced, for example.
In English-speaking countries, there is a real danger that the populations will get left behind, as the rest of the world becomes more adept at multilingual skills and standards lower in English-speaking countries. Plans to allow 14-year-olds to stop studying languages in the UK have alarmed professionals and a study indicates that French and German may lose many British students in the future.
Meanwhile, in the USA, a taskforce has produced a report that lambasts the international experience of the average US student. Noting that the USA needs business people who speak a range of languages such as Swahili, Arabic and Farsi, the report adds that study abroad would help encourage a global understanding among all citizens. It calls for strategies to be put in place to ensure half of all students study abroad by 2040.
Despite this prognosis however, there are signs that there is a groundswell of opinion in the USA about the benefits of studying abroad. In our Agency Survey, US repsondents were confident that bookings would increase this year, given the improvement in the US economy to date, and they reported that a number of clients were studying purely for pleasure.
And the Open Doors report that has been released indicates that more US students are studying abroad than ever before, which is encouraging news, unlike the inbound data that indicates a real slowdown in numbers for English language schools. With so many options available for the potential language student, the only question they need to answer is why they want to study abroad.