So there is soon to be a new kid on the block, in the form of Prime Education, a company comprising experienced industry professionals who are looking to carve out a new “high-end” niche for their education product (page 6). As the international education market continues to develop, providers try to improve on what is already available and therefore distinguish themselves in the market and ensure loyalty for a unique product. In the UK, private operators are now offering degrees for the first time too and promising better value for money (page 49).
Value for money is an important consideration for international students and among for-profit players and, increasingly, public universities it is a real goal. Of course, value for money is intangible, as the actual costs charged have to be weighed against so many variables including reputation of the school, any certificate gained, satisfaction of clients, welfare provision etc. All schools must keep up a constant balancing act, trying to keep costs low but satisfaction rates high, and the reality is that it is often the “extras” such as good extra-curricular activities and attention to welfare that make the difference between an average and excellent programme.
When asked if they would recommend their school, 93 per cent of our sample of students in France said that they would, but in fact this statistic is so much more meaningful if all the students have been on a previous language travel trip, as they have another programme to compare their school with. In this case, a high 40 per cent were second-time language learners, suggesting that satisfaction rates were genuinely high in France and schools offered more than just a basic package (pages 16-17).
So often it is the personal touch that really makes any international student happy the care of a teacher, the dedication of a welfare officer or activities coordinator to ensure that junior clients are busy and content (pages 26-30) or the time taken by school owners to attend school excursions (page 40). It is heartwarming to hear of agents checking up on their clients while overseas (page 11) but I doubt this is a norm, just as I am sure that individual attention at a language school is not always a possibility.
In a commodified market where economies of scale play out, the challenge for all operators agencies and educators is to reassure clients of a duty of care at the same time as a commitment to competitive bottom line earnings. And that’s the bottom line!