Industry issues - agents speak out
Q. What do you think the biggest challenges will be in 2011?
Kate Clarke, Al Ahlam Education, Oman
“We expect two challenges in 2011. The first is more changes from the UKBA regarding visas. It was extremely difficult in 2010 to keep up with and to understand the new regulations. The thought that more changes may lie ahead is unbearable but one of the key services we provide to our students is assistance with the visa application so it is imperative that we are completely up-to-date and conversant with the rules. It is a market discriminator for us. Our second challenge is to increase our student numbers for year-round programmes. We anticipate this will be necessary to counteract an expected drop in summer vacation and junior students because the fasting month of Ramadan, in the Islamic calendar, will fall in the key months of July and August, which is when most of our students travel.”
Claudio Cesarano, Managing Director, Globo-study Sprachreisen, Switzerland
“Luckily we have every year a challenge. This keeps us close to the market and forces us to monitor it to be able to react immediately. The language sector business is moving, changing and is as challenging as ever. Out of a few challenges I like to pick the main one for business: We have a very strong currency at the moment and it has never been in the past that a US dollar, a Canadian dollar, an Australian dollar and the Swiss franc have an exactly equal value. You pay one and you get one. Our challenge is to maintain a high quality service with experienced staff, being able to keep the amount of professional counsellors even though the profit margins shrink due to the currency drop. We have to be realistic that when already dealing with a relatively high level of student numbers, it is extremely challenging, not to say impossible, to increase 20-30 per cent in terms of bookings to keep up with the lower value of the currencies in these percentages just to be able to cover the same amount of costs that are to be covered.”
Karen Ong, CEO of LanguageInternational.com, USA
“The biggest challenge for us in 2011 is visa issues for the UK. With the changes in UK visa regulations last March, we’ve experienced a higher rate of visa rejection there. The new regulations are not helping the language travel business in the UK. For example, how come beginner English students can’t study for more than six months in the country, while intermediate-level English students can study for over six months, when it’s the beginners who need to study for longer durations? We hope that the UK Border Agency will rethink this policy.”
K C Raj, KCR Consultants, India
“The biggest challenge of 2011 will be the 10 hours per week part-time job limit, recently introduced by the UK government. Generally, almost all students from India expect to work part-time while studying overseas, at a minimum of 20 hours per week. It will affect my business because most of my language students are Indian-educated nurses, who are already registered in their home country and wishing to improve their English to meet the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council’s language requirement for Registered Nurse (RN) registration.”
On the move
Discovery Summer in the UK has recently appointed Nigel Heritage as Development Manager. Mr Heritage has been involved in junior summer programmes in the UK for over 25 years. “I am delighted to be joining such a high quality organisation as Discovery,” said Mr Heritage. “Discovery is always looking to improve its courses and to meet evolving customer needs and I look forward to contributing positively to that quest.”
Astur, a tour operator and incoming agency for organised language stays for groups and individuals to Germany, appointed Olaf Haar as its Head of Marketing. Mr Haar will focus on strengthening the international marketing of Astur and its current and new agent relationships worldwide as well as on developing the national marketing of International Language Camps for juniors in Germany.
Nicole Werder-Rupp has been appointed a member of the board of executive directors of Biku Languages AG in Switzerland. Ms Werder-Rupp is now in charge of daily operations enabling founders and sole shareholders, Peter and Susi Rupp, to be “present on a wider scale for our clientele of private persons, company clients and school groups”. Peter Rupp added, “We will continue to operate, in terms of quality, at the top end of the market representing only schools that share our approach or personal commitment and in putting the client at the centre of our activities.”
Andrea Emboaba has opened a branch of IE Intercambio in São Paulo, called IE Higienopolis. Ms Emboaba has worked as the Brazilian Marketing Director for ILAC since 2008 and decided to stay within the industry after returning to Brazil. She plans to open IE Santana within two months and expects to have IE Morumbi, IE Santo Andre, IE Osasco and IE São José do Rio Preto in full operation in two years’ time.
The National ELT Accreditation Scheme (Neas) in Australia has appointed Anne Holmes as Executive Director. Ms Holmes joins Neas after 10 years as head of a Sydney ELT college and member of the English Australia Council. Prior to that she headed up Swan School of English in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK for 10 years and was on the Board of the British Council Accreditation Scheme and a founder member of Eaquals. At Neas, a focus will be to raise the profile of Neas worldwide.
Agency launches prepaid gocard
The CEO of UK-based agency Springboard4Asia has launched a new pre-paid debit card for international students studying in the UK. The gocard allows students as young as 14 to spend up to UK£2,000 (US$3,125) on their pre-paid card on goods and services that display the visa symbol.
Colin Glass, CEO, said that the gocard was unique in that students did not have to provide an address to receive their card and pin number. “The card has a total life limit of UK£2,000, which means that the banking community have agreed to let it be used by students without current UK addresses,” he said. “Students on short-term courses can pick up their card and pin number when they arrive in the UK, and parents can load money onto it via an international bank transfer.”
The gocard, which can also be loaded with cash or via Internet/mobile banking, can be used online, in shops or to withdraw money from over one million ATMs around the world. The card can be used in the UK and overseas although transactions in other currencies will be converted to pound sterling at the exchange rate of the day.
Pearson’s global expansion plans
UK-based English language and exam provider Pearson has announced plans to build 50 new EFL schools in China within the next three-to-five years and has also acquired a 75 per cent financial stake in South African higher education company, CTI Education.
Pearson currently owns 66 schools in China, including the Longman chain of 21 schools, and acquired 45 branches of Wall Street English last April. John Fallon, Chief Executive of Pearson’s education arm, said of the China expansion, “This is a nicely profitable business for us and the scope for growth in China is enormous.”
CTI Education operates 12 campuses in South Africa offering degrees and diplomas to 9,000 students in subjects from international technology to psychology. The deal, which cost Pearson UK£31 million (US$48 million), also includes an option for the company to buy the remaining 25 per cent share in three years time.
Job website for students in UK
A new site, www.usefulstudents.com, has been launched by two brothers and former University of Edinburgh students, aiming to match up international students in full-time UK education and employers.
Andrew Howes, Operations Director, said the site gave “job providers and the general public a free, easy-to-use recruitment service that... gives access to a previously untapped pool of skilled candidates.” The website has averaged 2,500 unique visitors a week since it launched in October.
Planeterra partners with STA Travel
Global volunteering organisation Planeterra has announced a new partnership with UK-based STA Travel.
STA Travel is to commit US$1 million over five years to a responsible tourism programme led by Planeterra which will develop volunteer travel and community projects targeted at STA Travel’s six million passengers.
Peter Liney, CEO of STA Travel, said, “Our new partnership with Planeterra is going to change the face of STA Travel. Working with Planeterra we are supporting worldwide community development projects through our new volunteer travel programmes and through direct funding of important initiatives.”
STA Travel is also raising US$120,000 for a new community tourism training institute in Thailand which will provide courses in increasing income and sustainable tourism in the area in the future.
Carlyle Group to build student housing in London
Private Equity firm, Carlyle Group, has formed a joint venture agreement with General Estates Limited to provide student accommodation in London, UK. The company has already acquired a site in Highbury & Islington (north London) that will be converted to student accommodation and is also planning to acquire a further three sites in the UK capital.
The group eventually hopes to provide 1,850 beds for students in London and create a portfolio worth UK£350 million (US$547 million). Robert Hughes from Carlyle European Real Estate, said, “We have been aware of the attraction of student accommodation for some time, given the strong fundaments of the market, particularly the ongoing supply/demand imbalance in the UK.” He said the initial site fulfils criteria of being well located near to both a number of universities and transport connections.
The Highbury & Islington site is expected to be fully functional in time for the 2012/2013 academic year, while the other three sites are due for completion in 2013, subject to acquiring planning permission this year.
Each site will comprise a mix of studio rooms with en suite bathrooms plus kitchenette and smaller en suite study bedrooms.
There are currently 260,000 full-time students studying in London and only enough purpose-built accommodation for 19 per cent of this figure.
Suzannah Clerc, Senior Assessment Officer at Neas in Australia, answers our questions about the accrediting agency’s activities.
Full name: Neas (National ELT Accreditation Scheme Ltd)
Year established: 1990
Number of members: 212 / 287 accredited providers/ELT centres
Type of members: Universities; Vocational Education and Training (VET) colleges; stand-alone ELT centres; and high schools
Complaints procedure: yes
Agent workshops/fam trips: n/a
Association’s main role: The broad aim of Neas is to establish and uphold high standards of service provision in English Language Teaching.
Government recognition: yes
Code of practice: yes
Level 1, 231 Miller Street
Tel: +61 299546077
What has Neas been up to as a group lately? Have you gained any new members?
Neas celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010, which was a busy year for Neas. There were 34 new English Language Teaching (ELT) centres accredited in Australia. Two workshops for owners and managers of ELT centres were held, and training of the members of the Neas Assessments panel (inspectors who carry out on-site assessments on behalf of Neas) was carried out around the country. During 2010, Neas was pleased to learn that the Department of Immigration had extended its contract to provide accreditation services to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which assists approximately 35,000 newly arrived migrants to settle in Australia each year. Neas International was officially launched 18 months ago, and 2010 saw a growing number of ELT centres accredited in countries other than Australia, an increase in Neas accreditation services offered and promotional activities undertaken in North and South East Asia. Neas is currently implementing a wide-ranging Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey to inform its future planning and the continuous improvement of its services.
What did you aim to achieve at your Neas ELT Management Conference last year?
The goal of the conference is to improve the professional competence of ELT educational leaders. The 2010 conference also provided the opportunity to celebrate Neas’ 20th anniversary. The opening plenary speaker in 2010 was Professor Jun Liu from the University of Arizona, who presented a fascinating paper on the future of English language teaching.
How do you promote your accreditation activities to new potential members?
Promotional activities are wide-ranging, including attendance at international conferences, and articles and advertisements in the media. Stakeholders who may be in a position to recommend Neas (e.g. Austrade) are kept up-to-date with Neas’ activities.
How do you work with other industry bodies or the Australian government in order to promote accreditation and quality standards?
Neas is regularly in contact with state and federal governments on matters concerning the regulation of the ELT industry in Australia. State government authorities in Australia take Neas accreditation into consideration when registering ELT providers; in the state of NSW, Neas is the delegated registering authority. Neas accreditation is also required for English Australia membership. Neas contributes to discussion and knowledge sharing of best practice in setting and upholding quality standards in ELT.
• The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has revised initial growth forecasts for the travel and tourism sector following better than expected market recovery. According to officials, real GDP grew by two per cent in 2010, up from the 0.5 per cent forecast at the beginning of the year. It is estimated the increase will help generate an extra 946,000 jobs worldwide. “The longer term prospects for travel and tourism remain positive, boosted by rising prosperity in Asia. WTTC remains confident travel and tourism will remain a dynamic force for wealth and job creation,” observed Jean-Claude Baumagarten, President and CEO of WTTC. The predicted growth rate for 2011 may be a little more stilted, however, warned peers, growing by 2.7 per cent compared with the 3.2 per cent originally outlined in January 2010.
• Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, is expanding its central Asia network by launching services to Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey. From its regional hub in Almaty, the airline will begin offering twice weekly flights to St Petersburg, thrice weekly flights to Dushanbe in Tajikistan and thrice weekly flights to the Uzbeki capital, Tashkent. A new twice weekly service from the Kazakh capital, Astana, to Yekaterinburg in southern Russia and a once a week flight from Aktau in western Kazakhstan to Istanbul are also set to commence. Passenger numbers are reported to have increased by 14 per cent in the first half of 2010.
• Despite already operating an extensive service between London Heathrow and Pairs’ Charles de Gaulle airport, British Airways (BA) has announced it will start flying to Paris’ secondary airport, Paris-Orly. Colm Lacy, BA’s General Manager for Network and Planning, said, “This is an excellent addition to our short-haul network, allowing business travellers easy access to the Paris financial district which is close to Orly airport.” Paris-Orly is located 13 kilometres outside of the main city centre. Meanwhile, AirAsia has confirmed a new Kuala Lumpur-Paris route, its second European destination after London. The service, which is via affiliate budget carrier, AirAsia X, will run four times weekly.
• Japanese low-cost carrier, Skymark Airlines, is set to compete with British Airways, ANA, Virgin Atlantic and JAL on the lucrative London to Tokyo route. Targeting the business traveller, scheduled services on the new Airbus A380 superjumbo will cater for approximately 394 passengers, 114 of which will be business class. According to Skymark President, Shinichi Nishikubo, there is little competition in the business sector and the airline will look to slash airfares in this sector in a bid to attract business travellers. “Business class seats just take the space of two economy seats. There’s no reason to charge as much as airlines do.” Earmarked for a 2014 start up, Nishikubo said he expects the new venture to turn over a profit within the first 12 months.
• Qatar has signed an airline landing rights agreement with the Canadian government allowing them more access to the Canadian market. It is purported a thrice weekly passenger flight, operated by Qatar Airways, and three cargo flights, will be granted permission to land on Canadian soil. “We must manage a strong international demand for access to the Canadian market. The new agreement with Qatar is in the best interest of Canadians,” said Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman, Melissa Lantsman. UAE-based carriers Emirates and Etihad had previously failed to convince the authorities to allow them to increase flight services into the country.
• Following the well publicised mechanical failure in November last year, Qantas resumed its A380 services in December, commencing with an initial A380 service to London via Singapore. Alan Joyce, Qantas Chief Executive Officer, said, “We have undertaken a rigorous inspection programme in conjunction with Rolls Royce and Airbus to ensure the fleet is ready to return to service. We always put safety first, and we continue to take a conservative approach to the reintroduction of the A380 fleet. So we will initially operate the A380 between Australia and the United Kingdom. As more A380s come into service, we will assess when and how best to deploy them.”
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