|Frank O'Conor, at Enterprise Ireland, which organised the trade mission, said that strategic alliances between Irish colleges and Chinese universities were recognised by the Chinese president and Ireland's Education Minister during the trip, which saw official receptions held in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzeng.
'There are over 10,000 overseas students in Irish colleges, of which 6,500 come from outside Europe,' he said. 'We anticipate this figure doubling and the president's visit will help enormously.'
Mauro Biondi, from the Emerald Cultural Institute in Ireland, attended the mission. 'Overall, I think it was a very successful,' he said. 'Enterprise Ireland put a lot of effort in and worked hard in terms of presentation.' He added that the TV and press coverage also helped raise the profile of Ireland during the mission.
Francis Crossen from Dublin School of English added that the trip was an excellent way to catch up with his well-established agent contacts in China, under the auspices of an official state visit.
Each member of the trade mission was able to invite business contacts to the official receptions organised, one of which was in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. 'There were lots of companies from across the spectrum of Irish industry,' said Crossen.
The International Education Board Ireland (IEBI) also participated in the trip. A spokesperson commented, 'The number of educational institutions participating shows how important China is for Irish education.'
Visa rules delayed in Australia
A raft of updated measures relating to Australia's visa rules for different education sectors was due to be unveiled in November last year, but at the last minute, the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Dimia) announced a delay to the implementation.
'The department needs to fully brief the new Minister on the package of legislative changes to the student visa programme,' said a spokesperson for Dimia. 'These changes arise from the recent review of the 2001 student visa programme and the government's decision to introduce a student guardian visa.'
Sue Blundell at English Australia acknowledged that there was disappointment in the industry that the changes to the visa system were being delayed. 'It is anticipated that this will delay a large number of applications from certain markets that were holding back their applications until the November 1 changes came through,' she said, highlighting India as one example.
The changes were announced anyway, prior to news that their implementation would be delayed. The industry had been in discussion with Dimia about reforms of the visa programme. 'English Australia and other peak bodies were successful in some of our lobbying efforts,' said Blundell. These included limiting the introduction of an English language requirement for high school applicants to Assessment Level (AL) 4 countries only, rather than AL3 countries too.
Blundell added that industry bodies had also been successful in reducing the proposed Ielts scores that would be expected of AL4 high school applicants. China is the largest AL4 market.
Financial requirements are also due to be relaxed for AL3 and AL4 countries, while it is expected that there will also be more consistency for financial rules across education sectors.
English UK gets the yes vote
Members of Arels and Baselt, the two main English language schools' associations in the UK, met last year and voted a resounding yes to proposals to merge and create one of the largest industry associations of its kind in the world, English UK.
Of almost 170 Arels members voting, 145 voted in favour of forming an amalgamated association representing the interests of both private and state-sector English language tuition providers. Only 24 rejected the proposal, meaning that a majority figure of 86 per cent accepted the plan. Across the Baselt membership, an even higher 94 per cent of members backed the plan.
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of Arels, said that a working party was currently working towards formally establishing English UK some time this year, probably between April and June. At the time of going to press, a final inauguration date had not been decided. Millns said, 'This will be the [400 kilogram] gorilla in the world of language associations. It's very good news for more effective promotion of the UK as a destination to learn English.'
Richard Truscott, Chief Executive of Baselt, added, 'I am delighted that Baselt and Arels members have voted so decisively
in favour of English UK. The new association will provide a strong clear brand for quality English language teaching in the UK, ensure greater lobbying potential and combine the skills and resources of professionals in each sector to maximum effect.'
A working party canvassed members of both associations last year in an attempt to gauge members' reactions to the idea (see Language Travel Magazine, April 2003, page 5).
State-led marketing takes off
The Canadian province of Alberta, east of British Columbia, has signed an agreement with the federal government to ensure more international students go to the province to study and work. Alberta's Learning Minister, Lyle Oberg, reported that Canadian immigration authorities would now fast-track visa applications from key Asian countries and allow students graduating in the province to stay and work in Canada for two years instead of one.
Those countries given special status initially are Vietnam, China and India, while more countries may be included in the new agreement if the system works successfully. '[Students working in Alberta] are a good economic source and it's a good spin-off having foreign students in [the province],' commented Oberg, who added that capacity at universities for domestic students would not be affected.
Meanwhile, in July last year, Auckland City Council in New Zealand announced it was committing NZ$60,000 (US$36,675) to Study Auckland, which works to promote the city to international students. The money would be used to continue marketing initiatives and to undertake research on the impact that foreign students have in the city, explained Councillor Mark Donnelly.
'This industry is a major part of the Auckland economy, providing at least 6,500 full-time jobs,' he said. 'We need to look at this market holistically, in order to deliver a quality of life for all our residents.' He explained that the council would work with Study Auckland, city planners and business people to manage growth of the industry in Auckland, which is one of the most popular destinations for international students.
'We look forward to working with the council, particularly in organising a workshop for businesses to target the international student market,' said Susan Sawbridge at Study Auckland.
ACL to set up language schools in China
Australian language school, ACL, previously known as the Australian Centre for Languages, has teamed up with China's Tsinghua University to announce a new venture to open 100 English language centres in China over the next five years.
To fund the project, Australia's ANZ Bank has agreed to invest AUS$5 million (US$3.5 million) into ACL, which already has a joint project established in Vietnam as well as a teaching centre and other interests in Australia.
'ACL is one of the institutions that has been a leader in defining a place for Australia in the global education market,' said Managing Director, Helen Zimmerman. 'This announcement... is indicative of the company's standing in overseas markets.'
Jeremy Samuel at ANZ Bank added, 'We came to the strong view that the English language industry is a large and growing market with the ACL management team being a market leader.'
Multilingualism fuels academic success
Visa processing time in China for Australian student visas is improving, with the average length of wait since February less than 12 weeks, or 16 weeks for the high school sector, New research completed in the UK indicates that children who speak at least two languages are more likely to succeed in school. A study carried out by the Institute of Education at the University of London found that multilingual children benefited from having their language skills recognised and the consequent boost to their self-esteem made them work harder and do better at school.
The UK, like many other countries, has many children of ethnic minorities learning in English at school but speaking and learning other languages at home. The findings have implications for all children being encouraged to use a second language from an early age.