January 2003 issue

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Spain's mixed results

A shaky start at the beginning of 2002 gave way to a more positive outlook for many language schools in Spain, while increased marketing in a wider range of countries looks set to shore up the Spanish market in the face of worldwide political instability. Bethan Norris reports.

Despite the cautious predictions for 2002 voiced by language schools in last year's Market Report on Spain (see Language Travel Magazine, February 2002, page 23), many schools in this year's survey reported an overall growth in student numbers last year.

Carlos Martin, from ABC Instituto Espanol de Cultura in Barcelona, saw overall student numbers at his school grow by 15 per cent. However, the year has been far from consistent for many schools, with significant growth at the end of the year compensating for slow bookings during the first six months. Midori Ishizaka from Escuela Internacional, which has branches in Salamanaca, Malaga and Madrid, typifies experience when she says, 'At the beginning of the year, we had [fewer] students, but [the market] recovered well.'

Paola Vecchi from Colegio Maravillas in Malaga agrees. 'During the first six months of the year, the numbers were lower than the same period of 2001,' she says. 'The summer months were also lower than the previous year. Regarding the autumn, we are pleased to say that numbers have increased by approximately 40 per cent on [the period between] October [and] December 2001.'

The events of September 11, 2001, had a marked effect on the Spanish market as enrolments from the USA declined in the months immediately following the terrorist attacks. Many schools report that student numbers from the USA - which made up the second largest nationality group in 2001, according to E/RE - have been slow to recover. 'The worst [student nationality for us in 2002 has been the] North Americans,' says Maria del Mar at Linguae Mundi in Cadiz, 'perhaps [due to] September 11.'

Other student markets reported as suffering this year include Germany, Brazil and Japan, with language schools citing economic troubles as an explanation for decreasing enrolments.

Ignacio Duran, from Idiomas Babel in Seville, says that the number of Japanese students at his school decreased from 85 per cent of their total enrolment between 1995 and 1999 to just 10 per cent this year. He explains, 'Previously, our students from Japan would leave their part-time jobs to come to study for a few months - average stay three to five months - knowing that they would easily find another job on their return. The economic situation [has] created so much uncertainty that we believe this has acted as a deterrent.'

In general, language schools claim that any growth from specific student markets has been as a result of individual marketing plans, mostly to increase student diversity within the schools. Duran reports increasing numbers of French and German students, 'due to an increase in advertising - mostly in magazines', while Francesco Domastillo, from Imsol in Almuencar, has seen student increases from the Italian and French markets as a result of 'contact with agencies'.

Many schools speak of plans to diversify their student base and make inroads into new student markets. 'We are trying to open new markets that we have never contacted before, such as Russia, Norway, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic,' says Domastillo. Nevertheless, schools remain guarded in their predictions for 2002. 'It is a bit early to say,' says del Mar. 'The whole tourism industry depends on the general political situation so much and I must admit that it is now rather delicate.'

Ceele grows

The first national accreditation scheme for Spanish language schools in Spain was launched in 1998 and has since gone from strength to strength, according to Oscar Berdugo from Espanol como Recurso Economico (E/RE), which administers the scheme along with the Universidad de Alcala de Henares.

'At the moment, we have 52 accredited schools - approximately 25 per cent of all active schools and close to 60 per cent of those dedicated solely to Spanish language teaching,' he says. 'Next year, I think 80 per cent of schools that solely teach Spanish will be accredited.'

The Calidad en la Enseñanza del Español como Lengua Extranjera (Ceele) inspection scheme ensures the quality of language programmes and facilities offered at inspected schools in Spain and schools must re-apply for accreditation every two years. Many schools that now have accreditation believe that it is an important tool for reassuring agents and students about their quality credentials.

'Ceele represents a guarantee of quality for the clients and agents,' says Paola Vecchi from Colegio Maravillas in Malaga. Midori Ishizaka, from chain school, Escuela Internacional, adds that the accreditation scheme has had a 'very positive' effect on boosting Spain's profile as a language destination overseas. 'More and more agents and organisations are recognising Ceele,' she says.

However, Carlos Martin, from ABC Instituto Espanol de Cultura in Barcelona, says for his school, the effects of accreditation have been minimal as'it is not yet well known'.

Plans to extend Ceele overseas are, however, underway. 'At the moment we have accreditation applications from Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica,' says Berdugo. He adds, 'We are [also] sending information out to agents. We soon hope to have a new leaflet available and information can be found on our website www.ceele.com.'

International students in Spain by country of origin, 2001
Germany 23%
Others 14%
USA 13%
France 13%
UK 9%
Japan 8%
Italy 5%
Sweden 5%
E. Europe 4%
Brazil 4%

Source: Espanol como Recurso Economico (ER/E)

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