Taking a step back in time to see how the English language teaching industry evolved, for this issue's Special Report, proved to be a salutary experience. It was inspirational to see how ideals of promoting international communication, and a pioneering spirit, characterised the formative years of the industry.
The ELT industry only really took off from the 1960s onwards, and in many cases, the first language schools were set up by people with bold plans and a desire to embrace international exchange. These same values still hold true for many working in the industry and typify why people enjoy working so much in this domain, as I am often told. Most genuinely enjoy the international friends made and the personal growth achieved through intercultural connections; profit and success are not their only motivations.
The industry has clearly come a long way. From no regulation, the worldwide industry is increasingly well maintained in terms of meeting consumer expectations and government rule. In Australia, one school points to the sophisticated regulatory set-up as a saving grace of an industry that has its vitality under the microscope.
As has been well documented, many markets have not had the easiest ride in the last 18 months, and the mainstream education sector of the USA has witnessed a slowdown in international student numbers turn into a decline. However, if selected readers' opinions are anything to go by, the outlook is by no means dismal. All the agents giving their views in our 'Industry issues' section forecast that study abroad among their clientele will continue to rise in popularity, for reasons ranging from parent power to a developing job market.
If the study abroad market's potential continues to expand, then more evolution can clearly be expected, in terms of regulation and associated services. The French government, for one, is considering joining the standards drive and introducing a national accreditation scheme, which association Souffle may incorporate into its charter.
In Australia, another government initiative aims to improve the efficiency of the visa system. Selected agents in Thailand, India and China can now bypass the paper application stage of visa issuance and apply directly for a student visa on behalf of clients. Perhaps a modern twist on a pioneering approach to furthering international exchange?