March 2005 issue

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Industry direction

As in all manner of industries, the fortunes of individual language travel agencies are affected by factors such as local competition and the economic health of the country. But there are also more subtle underlying factors that contribute to long-term trends towards study abroad; factors such as domestic education provision, social trends and the political climate. Amy Baker looks at how the market has evolved to date and considers future trends.

I believe that interest in study abroad will grow, otherwise I would not have created a company in which study abroad is one of the main directions,'' says Valentina Shinkarenko of Gelios Travel in Russia, asserting what many agents feel about industry direction.

Shinkarenko backs up her assertion with a number of reasons. ''There are more and more people interested in studying English, even among people who are 40 to 50 years old,'' she observes. ''There is an insufficient level of highly qualified teachers [in Russia]; and there are not the schools and colleges in Russia that there are in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. [Parents] wish to give their children a good education that will allow them to become a comprehensively developed person.''

Education allure
This perception of an international education being superior to a domestic education, in the advantages it bestows on the student, is typical in many countries, according to Robin Middlehurst and Steve Woodfield, who produced a report into trends in the tertiary education sector for the Commonwealth of Learning and Unesco.

In their report, The Role of Transnational, Private, and For-Profit Provision in Meeting Global Demand for Tertiary Education: Mapping, Regulation and Impact, they observed that in all four of their sample countries of Jamaica, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Bulgaria, ''tertiary, and particularly degree-level education, is highly valued by students, parents, employers and the government. Education is seen to be a personal, social and economic good (Jamaica, Bangladesh) and key to a better life (Malaysia).''

The report also points out that in the 1970s and 1980s, some countries concentrated their educational investment on pre-tertiary levels and secondary provision. ''Such improvements at earlier education levels led to higher social expectations, wider aspirations and increased demand for access to tertiary education,'' states the report. ''In our sample countries, there is now significant demand for tertiary education and a willingness to invest in it by individuals, especially among the emergent middle classes.''

Studying a language with a view to entering the higher education system in another country has been one of the well-documented trends of the last few years. Academic preparation courses are commonplace in schools' brochures, and many destinations - Germany, France, Malaysia and Singapore, for example, as well as the main English-speaking countries - are actively competing for the international higher education student.

Hidetaro Kataoka, Chief Researcher of the IEI Ryugaku Soken Institute in Japan, observes that in Japan, ''the costs and fees to have an education abroad are about the same as the [fees] in Japan'' and he estimates that the overall study abroad market in Japan will increase by between three and five per cent each year until 2007.

In Turkey, Murat Ayvaci of Easy Way Education Consultancy also says that, ''the cost of education in the private schools is nearly the same as studying abroad at a school awarding the student the same degree or grade''. He adds that the Turkish government can't presently ''supply the demand for education''.

Agent role
Agents play an important role in letting students in outbound markets know just what options are out there in terms of language learning and further study. In India, Amaresh Shanker, Director of Rotary Scholar, says, ''These days, it has become easier for students to get all the required information via networks of reputed agents, the Internet or in education offices of High Commissions.''

As the market for study abroad expands, so does the number of agencies in a given country. In China, which has opened its borders to the world in the last five years, economic prosperity, population size, the number of tertiary education places available and the political will - passports are more easily available now - have combined to increase demand for study abroad and resulted in an increase in the number of companies offering placement services.

In recent years, the proliferation of study abroad fairs and media focus on learning overseas have also played a part in increasing general awareness about study abroad options. Albert Lee of International Education Foundation in Taiwan comments, ''There are constantly more fairs and media coverage on study abroad [in Taiwan].'' In Vietnam, agency Quoc Anh IEC Co has assisted TV crews in making in-depth programmes about learning overseas.

English as modern must-have
As well as a growing internationalisation of outlook among today's young students and their parents, another factor set to fuel bookings for agents in the future is the gradual ascendancy of English as an expected second language. Language researcher, David Graddol, who has been commissioned by the British Council to produce a forthcoming report, The Future of English, reveals in his preliminary findings that the next 50 years will be ''an unprecedented period in world history'' in terms of language acquisition.

He observes that English seems to have been repositioned as a basic skill in many national school systems and curricula, alongside other modern skills such as computer literacy. Of an estimated 5.8 billion people in the world who do not speak English as their first or second language, around 1.9 billion are between the ages of six and 24, representing the key ages for education and training, and suggesting growing numbers of potential English language learners in the future.

''We have entered a period in world history, unprecedented and unrepeatable, when children throughout formal education - from early primary school, secondary school children, and students in college and university - are all learning beginner or intermediate level English,'' Graddol states. ''In addition, a large, but unknown, number of adults are learning English in the workplace or in their free time. So while the roll-out of primary school English takes place over the next decade or so, hundreds of millions of older learners are still busy with English.''

While English seems safe in its position as most important world language, Graddol also observes that monolingualism will become outdated, and multilingualism the norm, as ''English is only one of the languages that people in other countries are learning. There is a rush towards Chinese in some parts of the world and Arabic and Spanish are both key languages of the future.''

International connection
Ayvaci in Turkey underlines that national political will is another motivating factor for students. In Turkey, political aspirations towards joining the European Union are influencing the populace. Turkey's aim to gain membership of the EU ''is pushing forward the Turkish students to know more about Europe'', he says.

There are other examples of a common drive towards building international links. ''As well as the government's attempts [to join the EU], the private [employment] sector in Turkey demands candidates know at least one foreign language, and it is mainly English,'' adds Ayvaci. ''The urge to set [synergy] with Europe can also be seen in the higher education sector. Newly founded private universities teach in English in each department and this makes students feel the need to learn English quite well in an English-speaking country.''

Links between universities and learning establishments in different countries are increasingly a feature of the wider study abroad market and capitalise on student interest in learning overseas. Off-shore campuses of universities now allow students to study overseas for a period of their degree programme, and, as Ayvaci explains, some universities now offer tuition in the English language medium.

Amy Yang at Taiwanese association, Tosa, points out, ''The number of European study [enrolments] is increasing [for Taiwanese students], and this may keep growing since there are more and more English language course choices for students in Europe.''

Private companies are including second language ability as an employee requirement as a matter of course now in many countries and job sectors. Jonathan Lee at IAE Edu Net Eduhouse Inc in Korea says, ''Most Korean companies recognise that a second foreign language - mostly English - is indispensable. Therefore, they employ the person who has [experience] in other countries''. Shinkarenko adds that in Russia, languages are increasingly expected in the fields of management, marketing, finance, cosmetology and others.

Financial factor
One crucial enabler of study abroad is, of course, finance. ''Most of the people who have the financial ability [in Turkey] wish to use study abroad opportunities. But if you consider the level of income in Turkey, only 10 per cent can afford this,'' says Ozdemir Icin of Network Educational Services, underlining that economics really set the tone for market growth against a backdrop of political, social and demographic factors.

In India, according to Shanker, financial logistics such as ''getting foreign exchange and loans has become easier'' and this has helped fuel the study abroad market. And Kataoka in Japan mentions a report by a high-profile bank research institute that concluded that the average spend per head in Japan on education was rising as a result of the current stable economic conditions in Japan and the declining number of 18-year-olds.

The population outlook for much of the developed world is stable, according to the United Nations, while a likely decline in numbers is expected from some countries, such as Japan, Germany, Russia and Italy. A declining or stable birth rate can mean more money to spend on education services per head within a given country. Depending on government investment in education infrastructure, any rise in population might also put the squeeze on access to education services and fuel the study abroad market.

Trends will always be dependent upon economic ability, which is difficult to forecast with accuracy. Global crises clearly have an impact on the market too, but looking ahead, the indications are that there is mileage in the market for some time to come, with business, academia, migration and social expectation all exerting an influence on prospective students.

A minority market

''Out of a population of around 5.2 million, I guess about 0.2 per cent study abroad,'' says Raimo Ahonen of the Finnish-British Society in Finland. ''This is probably on the increase, with the growth of the European Union, freedom of movement between countries, etc.''

Ahonen underlines the fact that despite predictions of growth for the study abroad industry, it remains a minority pursuit in many countries. It is interesting to note agents' calculations about the proportion of the populace actually going overseas to learn a language or continue their academic education. Mariglan Gabarra of Brazilian agency association, Belta, spells out her estimates. ''Brazil has the fifth largest population of the world: more than 180 million inhabitants - about 19.8 per cent are aged between 14 and 24,'' she says. ''Of [these] 36 million young people, Belta estimates that maximum target for studying abroad is 8.4 million people - and our numbers are of 40,000 people leaving Brazil for language/academic programmes each year.''

While Gabarra believes this number could increase by 20 per cent (8,000) this year, the fact remains that at present, just 0.1 per cent of the total 180 million inhabitants of Brazil are thought to currently study abroad.

In Japan, according to Hidetaro Kataoka of the IEI Ryugaku Soken Institute, 190,000 Japanese study abroad each year, based on immigration office statistics. This represents 0.14 per cent of the estimated 127 million Japanese population. In Taiwan, Amy Yang of Tosa explains that the study abroad statistics compiled by the Ministry of Education indicate that 33,791 people studied overseas in 2002, with that number thought to have increased further since then. An approximate 0.15 per cent of Taiwan's 23 million citizens can therefore be calculated as likely to be currently studying abroad.

Estimates for Korea vary from 100,000 to 350,000, depending on the source, which means that from 0.25 to 0.8 per cent of an estimated 40 million Koreans study abroad. ''We expect to have double the number 10 years from today,'' says Mansuk Bae of KAMC agency.

Additional sources: CIA World Factbook.

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