Most English language schools in the country have experienced a steady growth in student numbers in recent years. McCallum says enrolments were "good" in 1999, "better" in 2000, and the "best" in 2001. And she adds that they are looking very good for early 2002.
This favourable growth looks set to continue, particularly with the low value of the South African rand making study in the country comparatively cheap. In addition, the growth of South Africa as a tourist destination has spread the word about the attractions of the country and also helped language schools recruit students from a wider range of countries.
Germany and Switzerland remain two major student provider countries, but other countries are gaining in importance. "Student numbers from non-German speaking markets are increasing as South Africa becomes well known in other countries as well," says Alexander Kratochwil of Good Hopes Studies. He lists Brazilians among the most important student nationalities, as well as Spanish and Italian students. Diesel also documents "increased interest from Spanish speakers in Europe and South America", while McCallum sites an increase in students from neighbouring African countries.
Many language schools in South Africa have broadened their range of courses to incorporate specific business and academic preparation courses, thereby widening their target markets with great success. "We have developed an excellent business English programme," says Mark van Niekerk of One World Language School in Cape Town. "We have established links with universities and business colleges to achieve this, and we will continue to develop along these lines."
According to Karl Rutti, Managing Director of Cape Communication Centre, this market trend has affected the average student age. "The average age of students has become older," he reports. "The older students tend to study on our popular business English course. We also receive students who need to improve their English before going on to universities here in Cape Town."
In addition, the average length of stay is increasing, says McCallum. "Students seem to be coming for longer lengths of time, looking for better qualifications, rather than two-week general English/holiday stays," she says.
Nevertheless, South Africa remains popular with vacation learners. "[We have experienced] increased interest in our travelling classroom [course]," relates Diesel, "where students travel to Namibia with a teacher and a tour guide." The market remains highly seasonal, with students generally choosing to study between October and March, when the weather is driest.
McCallum reports a slight shift in this trend. "We have seen a change over the past two years, in that the biggest numbers [of students] are now seeming to come through early in the year January, February and March, rather than October, November and December, which used to be the trend," she says. "Also, our winter months have improved, in that we have more longer term students staying and continuing their studies over the winter."
Despite the general decline in tourism around the world owing to the terrorist attacks in the USA last year, and the subsequent military action in Afghanistan and unrest elsewhere, the English language industry in South Africa remains positive. "South Africa is a top destination throughout the world travel market and, of course, our very attractive [currency] exchange rates are also a big seller," concludes Rutti.