July 2011 issue

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UK’s resilience

While the economy has helped student enrolments at UK language schools, visa changes and amendments to the Saudi scholarship scheme have caused their own difficulties for schools. Bethan Norris reports.

The UK’s language teaching industry has faced many challenges over the last few years, not least of which is the continued changes to the country’s student visa system, which was again updated in March this year (see page 38). However, despite the pressures that this has undoubtedly caused those seeking to enrol student visa holders, many language schools reported a good year in 2010.

Brian Brownlee at Anglo European School of English in Bournemouth, says, “Our numbers in terms of student weeks were a bit higher in 2010 than 2009. Within that mix, the number of long-term students was down, but we saw an increase in short-term low-season groups which balanced the drop.”

With ongoing changes to the UK’s student visa system imposing greater restrictions on applicants, some language schools have noticed a decline in longer-term students. Brownlee observes, “Koreans, Colombians and other long-term nationalities have declined as a direct result of the disaster that is the PBS visa system.”

However, the extension of the student visitor visa from six-to-11 months has meant that schools are increasingly focusing their attentions on marketing shorter-term, specialist courses and courses focused on the junior market, as Brownlee highlights. “Our junior summer camps, which we started in 2005, have increased every year since then,” he says. “Last year we saw a 30 per cent increase on 2009. This type of business is not affected by the visa hassles and is where we expect continuing growth to come from.”

At Internexus English Language School in London, Steve Phillips says that the visa changes issued by the UK Border Authority (UKBA) over the last few years have had the greatest impact on enrolments and the school is changing its courses “from General English to more specialised programmes and pathways” in response to the changing student landscape. He adds that the school experienced a “slight increase of five per cent in pathway and pre-sessional courses” in 2010 over the previous year.

At the London School of English (LSE), Hauke Tallon reports that numbers increased slightly last year as students were attracted to the specialised courses on offer. Swiss students were the largest nationality group at the school and Tallon adds, “At LSE, corporate and business training is a core focus and this fits well with the Swiss belief in executive training. In 2010, other significant nationality groups included Brazil, Italy, South Korea and Russia.”

Tallon points out that the continued uncertainty surrounding visa policies have proved to be universally damaging. “Tightened visa restrictions have certainly lost us business, but the impact of the constant rule changes has been almost as bad,” he points out. “Many agents have been left confused and unable to understand the UK’s position. As a result, some have made unsuccessful applications and others have simply given up on the UK altogether.”

Saudi students, affected by changes to the King Abdullah Scholarship programme (see box), have also decreased in number. However, this void has largely been filled by other nationalities, many of whom have benefitted from the devaluation of the pound in comparison to a number of other currencies. “Overall, Spanish and Italian are the top nationalities. The continuing strength of the euro against the pound contributes to this, says Brownlee, while Tallon adds, “There is no doubt that the relative weakness of sterling has also made the UK an attractive proposition for English language students and I imagine we have also benefitted from that.”

While the UK continues to struggle with unhelpful legislative changes, its popularity with language learners appears to remain unaffected, especially with the weak value of the pound. Difficulties in some student provider countries can also be overcome as Phillips reports. Internexus has seen good student numbers from Colombia and Korea over the last year due to “good agent relations – we have an office in Korea,” he relates.

Where are the Saudis?

One noticeable change in the nationality make up at UK-based language schools over the last year has been a decline in the number of Saudi students.

“[Numbers] have declined because the Saudi Cultural Bureau decided that there were too many sponsored Saudis in the UK and has started redirecting them to other destination countries,” comments Brian Brownlee at the Anglo European School of English in Bournemouth.

An intention by the Saudi Cultural Bureau to distribute students on the scholarship scheme to a greater variety of countries and universities has also had an effect on enrolments at LSE in London, according to Hauke Tallon. “The most noticeable fall was in students from Saudi Arabia following a change in policy for the placement of government-sponsored students who came to us through the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau,” he says.

Introduced in 2005, the scholarship scheme provides funding for Saudi students wanting to study overseas at 21 different countries. Currently there are 15,000 Saudi students studying in the UK and the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education has provided a list of 63 universities from seven different countries that have been temporarily suspended from receiving any more students.

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Feltom Malta  
IALC International  
International House World Organisation  
Perth Education City  
Quality English  

Alphe Conferences  

Pearson Education  

Dr. Walter GmbH  

STM Digital  

Malta Tourism Authority  

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Academies Australasia  
Bond University  
Carrick Institute of Education  
English Language & Foundation Studies Centre  
Impact English College  
Language Studies International  
Melbourne Language Centre  
Pacific Gateway International College  
Shafston International College  
Southbank Institute of TAFE  
Think: Education Group  
University of New South Wales  
University of Tasmania  

International House Sol Group  
ILSC - International Language Schools of Canada  
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International House London  
Kaplan International Colleges  
London School of Business & Finance  
Malvern House College London  
King's Colleges  
Queen Ethelburga's College  
St Giles International  
Study Group  
University of Essex - International Academy  

International House Berlin - Prolog  

International House Ireland  

Dialogo Language Services  

Clubclass Residential Language School  
Feltom Malta  
inlingua Malta  

Escuela La Ola  
International House - Sevilla CLIC  
Malaca Instituto - Club Hispanico SL  

EF Language Colleges Ltd  
Eurocentres International  

Academia Uruguay  

Santa Barbara Business College  
ELS Language Centers  
UC Berkeley Extension  
University of Arizona  
University of California San Diego  
Zoni Language Centers  

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