The value of international student exchange to countries around the world - for example, bringing money into a country and helping expand the knowledge base in a particular academic area, as well as broadening the horizons of the country's citizens in some way - has long been championed by the global study abroad community.
This value is similarly acknowledged by governments that attest their appreciation of their education export industries and intention to help facilitate bona fide education exchange. In the UK, the government has welcomed findings in a recent report that the education export industry is worth around US$18.3 billion directly - and called for efforts to be kept up to ensure the UK remains a popular choice among students.
But in the current climate, efforts to help boost international student recruitment are occuring at the same time as efforts are being made to close up visa 'loopholes' used by visa abusers and illegal immigrants. This has been the case in the UK, Canada and in Japan recently, where language schools and vocational schools have been identified as avenues used by illegal workers.
In some countries, the study abroad industries have complained about over-regulation by their governments impeding their student recruitment efforts, and the balance between security and accessibility is surely important to achieve. In the USA, school representatives are voicing their concerns that the student visa process is putting off students, while a number of students are themselves voicing their discontent about the Sevis fee already being charged by some higher education institutions.
In New Zealand, there has been relief, however, as the government has acknowledged that its plans to tax private education providers further were anti-competitive and an impediment to an industry that has been recognised as a significant dollar earner for the country.
Ideally, all efforts to tighten immigration security can work hand in hand with the efforts of the education export industry to attract students to a secure destination promising quality education. There is optimism in the UK that the government's efforts to close down bogus school operations and move towards a system of accreditation for all will help reassure students about the integrity of programmes on offer in the country. The news coincides with the launch of English UK, aiming to be 'the world's leading language travel association' and combining the interests of state-sector and private English language teaching operations.
In Malta too, the national English language teaching schools' association, Feltom, is moving towards advocating a system of compulsory accreditation for all schools, with regular re-inspections. Feltom's President explains that the move is seen as a further step towards improving overall quality.
Continual improvement is a focus in our Special Report about agency associations in this issue, as new associations are cropping up in a number of countries where education consultants want to improve the image of their industry among the public and guarantee minimum standards for their own service sector.
It is also being witnessed in terms of accommodation provision, as agents testify that their clients now expect a range of affordable accommodation options and relate that schools moving towards offering this model are assured of student bookings.