A breakdown in relations between the British Council in Turkey and certain local agencies has been avoided thanks to diplomacy efforts on the part of both the British Embassy and British Council in Turkey and members of the Turkish agency association, UED.
Last year, a Turkish agency wrote to Language Travel Magazine and language schools in the UK, expressing concern that only a handful of designated education agencies were able to submit student visa applications directly to the Embassy offices. ''Can you imagine, a [small] group of agencies receiving all the student applications in a country with a population of [many] million?'' wrote Eren Goker of Yakin Bati Educational Counseling.
This set-up, which was clearly explained on the Embassy's websites for its Ankara and Istanbul offices, had come about following the terrorist attack on the Embassy in November 2003, after which the staff had to move premises to a local hotel. Ten education agencies were listed in late October last year on the website, as well as local Chambers of Commerce and the British Airways office, as being able to submit visa applications directly to the Embassy.
Guy Roberts, Press Officer at the British Council, speaking on behalf of the British Council and the Visa Section at the Embassy, explained, ''The objective was to resume some form of visa processing as quickly as possible, but in the light of the obvious logistical difficulties, it was no longer possible to deal with applicants on a personal basis.''
Roberts said that a meeting was held between the visa section and those agencies that were registered with the Embassy, during which the application system was devised. ''There was never any suggestion that those agencies that were invited to collect and submit applications should have a monopoly on accepting UK visa applications,'' he stated, ''only that they were the ones who could actually bring the applications to the visa section.''
Nevertheless, Goker was one of several agents who were disgruntled with the situation and claimed that he was losing business. Certain language schools were alerted to the situation, and they also contacted the British Council, which works in liaison with the Embassy in the country. The outcome was that a meeting was held between the Embassy and UED and all UED members are now able to process and submit visa applications. A link to the UED website was expected to be listed on the Embassy website as a point of contact at the time of going to press.
Ozdemir Icin of Network Educational Services said, ''The new system will enable all agencies and individual applicants to use the [designated] passport collection points [which are UED members' offices]. But we hope that everything will revert to normal soon and people can make applications by themselves.''
Roberts said this was unlikely. ''In accordance with UK Visas policy, the Embassy shall not be returning to a system where they see applicants in person unless they are invited to attend an interview after initial consideration of the application.''
Australia trials agent e-visa system
A scheme trialling an electronic visa application service for agencies enrolling clients in Australian institutions has been expanded in Thailand, China and India. The pilot project could be rolled out to agencies in other countries.
The agencies that are party to this project are able to lodge an electronic visa application on behalf of their clients and bypass the paper application stage of the student visa process. The agents check themselves that a student is bona fide and have been given the authority by the Department for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Dimia) to lodge a request for a student visa to be issued once their client has received a confirmation of enrolment from their chosen school.
Dimia conducted training for selected agencies last year. A Dimia spokesperson told Language Travel Magazine, ''More agents will get the opportunity to use eVisa when fine-tuning to systems and procedures is finalised.'' Initial companies selected to take part were selected on the basis of volume and geographical representation. ''The trial is a further example of how [Dimia] has responded to the growth in the overseas student visa programme in recent years by offering electronic lodgement services,'' said the spokesperson.
Liu Yali, General Manager of Jinan Overseas Chinese Study Abroad Service in China, is using eVisa. She said, ''We have used the system smoothly and find that it is a really smart system'', and pointed out that although the visa requirements for students remained the same, the waiting time was reduced considerably as students do not have to lodge proof of requirements with the Embassy.
''It is clear that more students are interested in studying in Australia recently,'' said Liu, ''and we are trying our best to introduce this new system to our clients and to encourage the clients with excellent status to apply.''
Industry issues - agents speak out
Q Do you believe that interest in study abroad is growing or declining among the youthful population in your country?
Inna Kostevskaya, SAM Travel Company, Ukraine
''[Interest in study abroad] is definitely growing. International travel is becoming more commonplace. It's also because of the fast growing economy and increased demand [from businesses] for young people with a good education and work experience in a foreign country. For example, you often see now in employment ads: 'MBA is not necessary, but highly desirable'. Soon, it may change into 'MBA is necessary', at least for positions with high salaries and career possibilities. It goes without saying that a young person who wants a good position and salary should speak perfect English, and a second foreign language is a big plus.''
Daisuke Takahashi, Japan Education Advancement Association (JEAA), Japan
''The market is growing for students who are interested in studying abroad, especially in Australia and New Zealand. Families are finding schools in the USA and the UK [expensive] compared with the schools in Australia and New Zealand. Vast amounts of information can be obtained via Internet, magazines, etc, so more students are exposed to the variety of opportunities to meet their particular demands. This is also true with college and vocational training - students or people who recently completed their degree have the desire to explore different languages and cultures. Globalisation continues rapidly and parents too frequently face international interaction through their professions, which stimulates their children to go abroad and study as well.''
Emilio Bordona Soriano, STS Interway, Spain
''I think that the interest in going abroad to learn a language is growing every year from Spain among the youthful population. We have to bear in mind that the students not only go abroad to learn a language, they also go abroad to have an experience with other people of the same age having the same interests. Offering an interesting experience with people of the same age in a foreign country is something that no one between 14 to 18 years old can refuse.''
Elzbieta Soudani, Felberg Travel Agency, Poland
''Since the 1990s there has been a noted rise in interest in study abroad, especially among young people who are travelling with the idea of improving their language skills and simultaneously getting to know the cultures and places [of other countries] which they have got to know in books. English is a foreign language in every Polish school, which is a relatively new thing in our education system. The language of previous generations was definitely Russian, which is why we have many younger English speakers compared with the middle-aged population. Nowadays, parents are aware of the necessity of language studies and are more willing to invest in this for their children. The growing popularity of holidays abroad might have also affected this increase in study abroad. There is also visible popularity of English films, sitcoms and music, which attracts and mobilises the youth especially. Language courses are becoming more popular year by year.''
Helen Galván, Vía Lenguas, Mexico
''Study abroad is growing considerably among young Mexicans. With a general shortage of jobs and plenty of competition for the well paid ones, they are seeing the necessity of spending some time abroad and to perfect their English and often another language, and also to gain some work experience. [And] families are becoming more confident in letting their children go abroad. Many parents see the value of a spell abroad to improve fluency and pronunciation and spark interest in other cultures.''
Agency of the month
In a series appearing each month in Language Travel Magazine, we ask a different language teaching institution to nominate one of their preferred agencies or agent partners, and to explain why this person/company is worthy of their nomination.
This month, Hola Denia in Spain nominates Lisa Sprachreisen, a European agency with offices in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Pablo Camino, Director of the company, explains this decision:
''Lisa Sprachreisen in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is one of our best agents. It promotes our courses very well through its catalogues and websites. The staff are very professional and efficient. That makes our task very easy. At Hola Denia, we have Spanish courses combined with sailing, scuba diving, and courses for people over 50 years old, as well as offering many activities that people can do in the Mediterranean Sea. At Lisa Sprachreisen, these specialities are explained well to clients, which is a difference compared with some other agencies. Lisa informs its clients comprehensively about what they can find in the region, in our school and about the excellent accommodation.
The agency is expanding into the UK, Denmark and Sweden. This will mean a higher number of students of different nationalities in our school. Lisa has some of the best qualities that an agency can have: a capacity for innovation, flexibility to adapt to change and a real responsibility towards clients.''
On the move
At its recent AGM in Adelaide, the members of English Australia (EA) elected Seamus Fagan as the new national Chair for the English language sector association in Australia. Mr Fagan (left), who is Director of the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre at the University of Newcastle, has served for 11 years on the EA Council, the last four as Deputy Chairperson. Marc Weedon-Newstead (right), the General Manager of International Programmes at ACL, was also elected Deputy Chair of EA.
Calum MacKechnie, a native of Scotland, left his position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the USA last year to become Director of the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) in Toronto, Canada.
Brian North has recently become Vice Chair of European association, Eaquals. Mr North is Academic Director at Eurocentres and has been involved in the process of developing levels and descriptors for the Common European Framework (CEF). As Vice Chair, he intends to increase the profile of Eaquals schools in the language travel industry with common Eaquals certification related to the CEF.
Nobuyuki Makaise has been appointed Japanese Coordinator at InTuition Languages in London, UK. He will oversee the administration of Japanese students for InTuition's home tuition programmes in the UK and Ireland, and develop client relationships with Japanese agents. Mr Maikase previously worked for Ryugaku Times in Japan and has a strong knowledge of the market. ''It is an exciting time to join InTuition Languages and I look forward to working on the other side of the fence!'' he said.
Julie Moss has been elected National Chair of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (Acpet) in Australia. Ms Moss has been involved with Acpet for more than a decade, representing private providers at national and international levels. As MD of a photography studies college, she is an experienced educator and vigorous advocate for competitive fairness between public and private institutions.
Souffle in France is expanding its horizons and hoping to gain international members. It has also taken quality to the heart of its agenda. Jean Petrissans, Chief Executive, answers our questions.
Full name: Souffle, groupement professionnel des organismes d'enseignement du français langue étrangère.
Year established: 1990
Number of members: 18
Type of members: private and public schools (universities)
Association's main role: upholding and promoting quality
Government recognition: No
Code of practice: Yes
Complaints procedure: Yes
Agent workshops/fam trips: No
Contact details: Souffle, Espace Charlotte,
La Crau, 83260, France
Tel: +33 494009465Fax : +33 494009230
What has Souffle been up to in the past year?
Since the beginning of last year, Souffle has reflected a lot on the quality of French language teaching to foreigners in small and medium-sized language teaching institutes, such as our members. We have asked a specialist to make suggestions regarding the quality verification of member centres, particularly in the area of references. At the moment, a national quality scheme is being discussed. We know little about this to date. If this accreditation scheme is a success, Souffle will have to reconsider its position in the market. It could be that we encourage all members of Souffle to obtain this quality endorsement.
Is Souffle trying to expand membership?
Of course, we are always trying to get together the best language teaching centres in France, but more recently, we have sought members from other French-speaking countries, notably those that are nearby, such as Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, as well as Canada. One school centre in Brussels, Belgium, is currently undergoing inspection and I am hopeful that this school, Alliance Française de Bruxelles, and others will join us.
What are the key issues facing French language schools at the moment?
I think that member schools have now well assimilated the Common European Framework of Reference [into their] teaching. Soon, they will have to familiarise themselves with the norm [European framework] introduced by the CEN, and the expectations of [reaching new] quality standards, be they international or national.
How does Souffle work with language travel agents?
Souffle does not engage in any commercial activity and it does not organise any workshops. But Souffle can assure agents of the benefits offered by its member centres and can help agencies in their research if they require a particular product, such as a programme combining language learning and business training, which seems to be rising in demand.
Seamus Fagan (left) new Chairperson of English Australia, is pictured here awarding a bursary of AUS$1,500 (US$1,177) to Damian Connell from Milner International College in Perth. Mr Connell won the John Gallagher Memorial Professional Bursary for his tireless devotion to teaching. The award is given each year to a candidate who has made a significant contribution to the ELT sector. Warren Milner, who nominated Mr Connell, said his efforts often went beyond the call of duty.
The Alphe Workshop visited Phuket, Thailand and Shanghai, China last year - taking its trademark business style to China for the first time. Both workshops went well according to Organiser, Jane Gilham, who reported that the range of agents attending in China, including the number of Chinese agencies, all of whom were licensed, made the first-time workshop a real success. Meanwhile, the relaxing environs of Relax Bay in Phuket meant that participants also enjoyed the original Alphe Asia workshop in Thailand.
Pictured here (right) doing some undercover networking in Phuket are, from left: Jung Kung, Overseas Education Centre, Hong Kong; Kate Kelleher, Gosford Christian School, Australia; and Suzanne Rees, Magill College, Australia. Above right, doing business in Shanghai are, from left, Timothy Blake of London School of English, UK; Brian McQueen, Dundee College, UK; with Chinese agents Zhang Zhuo, of Beijing Global Education Centre, and Huang Ying of Beijing Wan-ji Consulting Co., Ltd.