There are sometimes developments on a macro-level that yield opportunities for improving business in the study abroad industry, such as improving aviation links or a government's policy on education. At the same time, industry players may feel that obstacles increasingly occur to thwart their business.
We touch on many such challenges and opportunities in this issue, which combines news and comment from both the language training and mainstream education sectors of the industry for the first time, with the incorporation of Education Travel Magazine as a bi-monthly publication into Language Travel Magazine.
In Poland, for example, the slow-moving economy is having a restrictive influence on the ability of Polish citizens to afford language study abroad, although the looming accession of Poland into the European Union is providing a new motivation to improve language skills (pages 12-13).
In Spain, factors such as the prevalence of low-cost airlines offering cheap flights to Spanish destinations from Europe and the British footballer, David Beckham, moving to Madrid, is increasing interest in Spanish, according to schools. However, issues affecting the whole market last year, such as the Sars outbreak and the war in Iraq, as well as a lacklustre economy in Germany, dampened enrolment figures in 2003 (page 21).
One of the biggest hurdles at the moment for both the language and mainstream sectors of the market is visa issuance. The US market is particularly affected at the moment by stringent visa regulations that have continued to be updated since September 11, 2001, in a bid to ensure 'homeland security' (pages 22-26). In the USA, the President of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) claims that language students face more difficulties negotiating the visa system because it has been designed with long-term undergraduate students in mind and the processes are off-putting to a short-term student. The association is advocating for concessions where possible (page 31).
While many other countries have also raised the bar in terms of visa rules - for example, some nationals now need to obtain a transit visa to pass through the UK en route to a third country (page 6) - on the other side of the coin, many countries are also signing cooperation agreements intended to improve business relations and exchange between their nation and others.
For example, the USA and Vietnam have paved the way for direct flights between their countries (page 6), which would help the appeal of the USA as a study destination, notwithstanding the cumbersome visa process. Ireland recently conducted a trade mission to China and strategic alliances between Irish and Chinese colleges were recognised during the trip (page 4).
In the mainstream education sector, there have been similar moves on a national level to stimulate education exchange. In Japan, the government is introducing scholarships designed to encourage its citizens to undertake two to three-year masters and doctorate degrees overseas (page 41). Meanwhile, Singapore continues its quest to position itself as an Asian education hub and attract its share of the 1.8 million students currently studying in a foreign country (page 41).
The wheels of globalisation will continue to turn and international exchange is certain to build over time. The study abroad industry will remain as relevant as it is today. The challenge for those in the industry is to stay focused on the long-term view.