March 2005 issue

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Germany's durability

The German language teaching market remained stable in 2004, although weak national economies and the precarious world security situation have held back some sectors. Gillian Evans reports.

As Florian Meierhofer from BWS Germanlingua asserts, ''the German market in general has decreased quite a lot in the last few years''. But 2004 seems to have marked a change in this trend with many language schools reporting a satisfactory business year, although reasons behind growth remain individual.

''We had an increase [in student numbers] of approximately 15 per cent,'' states Hans Georg Albers, Director of Marketing and Sales at Carl Duisberg Centren. He puts their favourable performance down to the expansion of agency networks in Korea, Spain, Turkey and Brazil, coupled with ''more bookings from 'old' agencies in Korea, Japan, Turkey and China''. However, according to Albers, the positive development in some markets was offset by a contraction in agency bookings from other countries such as Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic.

A similar performance of 10 per cent growth was recorded by Europa-Kolleg Kassel, although the school's Director, Eckhard Kuhn-Osius, says the increase was mainly owing to a bounce-back to pre-2003 numbers, after a ''bad performance in [2003] because of the uncertain world situation''.

Attesting to the health of the German market, however, is news of the establishment of new schools over the past couple of years. Angela Radford, Head of Marketing for OISE, which opened a school in Heidelberg in 2003, reports that student numbers at their new operation swelled by 80 per cent in 2004, thanks to word-of mouth recommendations and the school's own marketing efforts. Similarly, the new Berlin-based branch of BWS Germanlingua recorded 40 per cent growth in 2004, outperforming its Munich flagship branch, where numbers remained ''stable'', according to Meierhofer.

Another school to have performed well in 2004 is one that concentrates on the junior market. Student numbers at the Humboldt-Institut grew by 20 per cent in 2004, says Marketing Director at the school, Heiko Ahmann. She explains, ''This positive development was due most of all to our inauguration of [a] year-round centre for young students between 10 and 17 years of age.'' Notwithstanding this growth, Ahmann admits that the junior sector in Germany, like in many other countries, has been on a downward spiral owing to global unrest. ''We have noticed a slight setback in our junior numbers [overall],'' she says. ''This development seems to [have been] due to fears related to the Madrid [bomb] attacks at the beginning of [2004].''

With the expansion of the European Union (EU) in May 2004, many language schools in Germany hoped that these countries would provide them with a new influx of students. On the whole, however, the new EU states have not, as yet, had a marked effect on the market. Ahmann says, ''Though interest from the new EU countries has risen, it is too early to say that the expansion has already had an impact on bookings.''

Meierhofer believes that price remains the main dampener on growth. ''For the majority [of new EU citizens], Germany is still a very expensive country and, therefore, many of them cannot afford a German course,'' he explains. ''As long as the students of [these] EU countries are not allowed to work in Germany - which is still the case for the next seven years - there is no real interest in learning German.'' Kuhn-Osius notes that where the number of Eastern Europeans has increased is in ''any programme financed via official channels''.

Despite the potential shown by some market sectors, German language schools are cautious of forecasting the performance of the market in the future. However, there is a certain air of optimism among providers in Germany. Kuhn-Osius speaks for many when he says, ''On the whole I am optimistic [for 2005] although much will depend in the economic situation worldwide.''

Visa tensions

As is the situation inmany other countries, recent world events have made it more difficult for some nationalities to gain visa entry to Germany. Hans Georg Albers from Carl Duisberg Centren joins many language providers around the world when he reports, ''Unfortunately there are more and more problems for students coming from Islamic countries as well as, for example, India and some north African countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. [The] main problem is that the embassies either suppose them to be terrorists or do not believe that they are coming to study in Germany but [that they] come to work.''

Central and Eastern Europeans are also sometimes prevented from gaining visa acceptance for Germany. ''In one case, even someone with a government scholarship was denied a [German] visa in Bosnia-Herzegovina,'' recounts Eckhard Kuhn-Osius of Europa-Kolleg Kassel.

Germany's national barriers have come down especially hard on Chinese students. ''Our biggest problem right now is China, as the German embassies don't give visas easily any more,'' confirms Florian Meierhofer from BWS Germanlingua. ''As in China, faking certificates [is quite widespread], the German embassies do tests with visa applicants now. As those tests are done in the German language, applicants have to [have] a good German knowledge before they come to Germany.''

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