||Fluctuations in the value of New Zealand dollar continued to have a negative effect on international enrolments at New Zealand language schools in 2006, with many schools seeing enrolment figures mirror currency changes.
Cleve Brown from Worldwide School of English in Auckland is typical when he says that the first half of 2006 saw a better business performance than the second half. “[Enrolments in] 2006 were an improvement over 2005,” he says. “The main reason was that for most of the year the New Zealand dollar depreciated slightly compared with 2005. However, the end of 2006 saw the New Zealand dollar appreciate again and enrolments slowed down again.”
Darren Conway from Languages International in Auckland and Christchurch agrees that, while 2006 was better overall than the previous year, enrolments faltered during the second six months of 2006. “This was probably related to currency movements,” he confirms. “In the first half of the year we had the fastest depreciating currency in the world, whereas in the second half we had the fastest appreciating currency in the world. Effects are generally more delayed, but last year the impact appears to have been a little more immediate,” he relates.
Currency changes in student markets also had an effect on enrolments from individual nationalities in 2006, according to schools. Japan remains a big market for the industry in New Zealand, although there is evidence that this area is becoming less reliable for some. “Group tours from Japan have dropped and become very price sensitive,” asserts Rose Blackley from Taupo Language & Outdoor Education Centre, while William Neale from Seafield School of English in Christchurch adds, “The drop-off in Japanese enrolments, particularly from the middle of the year, reflected a general downturn in that market.”
Another student market that underperformed in 2006 was Brazil, and Geoff Butler from Mount Maunganui Language Centre believes this was due to unfavourable visa conditions. However, he adds, “Switzerland, Japan and Thailand are performing the best. I think we can thank our agents in each of those countries for those results.”
The last few years have proved to be difficult for many in New Zealand’s language travel industry, with increasing competition from other language travel destinations, a decrease in the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand and currency fluctuations all having a negative impact on enrolments. Increased regulation and levy demands imposed by the New Zealand government are, however, a particular bone of contention for language schools in the country.
“Our regulatory environment, which sees us having to pay 12.5 per cent GST on students’ fees, pay an Export Education Levy another form of taxation and which effectively denies work rights for most English language students, is also unhelpful,” says Neale, while Butler points out that “we remain stymied by visa regulations which hamper growth”. He adds, “A reduction in Ministry of Education/NZQA red tape would really free us up to focus on providing a better service to students. Language schools get so bogged down in trying to comply with government regulations that it is easy to lose focus on what is really important the students.”
Work rights for student visa holders is a thorny issue for language schools, many of whom see potential students choosing to study in other English language destinations where work permits can easily be obtained. Currently, language students in New Zealand can work up to 20 hours a week if they are enrolled on a full-time course of study lasting at least six months and have an Ielts score of five or above. Butler believes this requirement puts a severe limitation on schools’ abilities to increase student numbers. “I’d love to see work rights for students be introduced without an Ielts requirement,” he says.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom among New Zealand’s language providers and many report encouraging growth from new student markets, as well as increased interest in new products (see box). Chris Leckie at Rotorua English Language Academy, says that they experienced a slow but steady improvement in 2006, compared to 2005. “Japan and Korea [are our best markets] and we have strong, loyal agents working for us in both markets,” she relates.
Both Blackley and Brown say that Saudi Arabian numbers are rising and with the introduction of 300 scholarships for students from this country (see Language Travel Magazine, April 2007, page 7), this looks set to continue. Other student markets noted as good performers include Germany, Switzerland and Chile, indicating that schools are focusing on other world regions.
With many language schools experiencing tough times in the past few years, it is not surprising that some have lost out in the battle for survival. “Quite a few city schools have been forced to close over the last two years, enabling the potential student market to be distributed into the remaining few schools,” says Rose Blackley from Taupo Language & Outdoor Centre.
As competition between schools increases, many have been looking at ways in which to stand out from the crowd. Blackley claims that their short-term enrolments have remained constant despite the rise in the New Zealand dollar because of the 40-plus adventure activities that they offer international students. Other schools have been concentrating on developing their business and academic programmes in order to boost business. “For a number of years, Seafield has been offering the Cambridge FCE, CAE and CPE courses,” says William Neale from Seafield School of English in Christchurch. “These programmes have proved to be popular with Swiss students, and more recently with some Korean students.”
Darren Conway from Languages International in Auckland and Christchurch, however, is wary of offering novelty courses that turn out to be “unviable fads” and points to an alternative change in business direction. He relates, “The exception is probably the language and work market, where we have developed a new service to cater to what will probably be a long-term growth trend.”