It is not news to anyone that the industry is facing difficult times. The Sars virus has been the latest in a long line of challenges for agents and schools (page 4). However, as agents reveal to us in this issue, there are more concrete worries for many, apart from the latest health scare. Visa problems, specifically, seem a real issue for many agencies.
Having students that are interested and able to pay to study abroad, but who are likely to be refused a visa for the country of their choice, as is the case of Indonesian students interested in Australia, must be more disheartening for agents than concerns about potential cancellations by nervous students (page 8).
Economic problems at home can also have a deflating effect on business, and must be difficult to contend with, although, as our French Agency Survey shows, even economic malaise does not always impede students from following their goals to study abroad. Despite a lacklustre economy in France, business was buoyant last year, mainly because of student ambition (pages 10-11).
In fact, there are many problems that students can overcome if they are really keen to study abroad. This is the hope that agents must cling to in these difficult times, even when experiencing an economic slowdown, that education overseas remains a priority for many and is not seen as a luxury, but a necessity. Therefore, students will make efforts to study overseas.
In times of market contraction, short-term vacation-oriented courses usually suffer far more than the academic preparation sector of the market that agents cater for. It is important that agents remain up-to-speed with the range of programmes that are available for those students keen to learn a language and then integrate into an education system overseas. Luckily for agents, schools are investing in this sector, developing increasingly relevant and attractive programmes for this market (pages 20-24).
In terms of visa problems, there are also ways around them, but this usually means students switching their choice of destination to a country that is easier to get into. One US school is only too aware of this process. They point out that in Brazil, just flying to a US Embassy for a visa interview can cost students US$700 (page 23). English language schools in Ireland have also been discovering that an unwieldy immigration system can be a real disadvantage. Problems in China and Russia in particular have really impacted on the market (page 29).
For schools, it is important that they have clear channels of communication with immigration services in their country so that they can attempt to iron out any problems. This is the case in Ireland, with MEI~Relsa working with the Department of Justice.
In Canada, the time has come when language schools realise that they need a similar industry association, representing the interests of most language schools in the country to government as well as overseas agencies. Two separate associations are currently in talks about forming the first cross-sector national association for the industry (page 4).
It must be disheartening for schools if immigration authorities or the education ministry in their country don't seem as committed to market growth as they are. This seems to be the case in New Zealand, where the Education Ministry has been deemed unhelpful in the current climate (page 4). As with agencies, the lesson for schools is to work together and highlight their quality credentials, so that government bodies respect their goals.