March 2010 issue

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Direction I
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Special Report
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Regional Focus

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South Africa’s hope

Business was slow in 2009 for many language schools in South Africa, although providers hope the World Cup this year will boost student numbers. Cherrelle Harroo reports.

We have seen a decline in the number of students travelling to our centre this year, mainly due to the current economic climate and the uncompetitiveness of the rand,” says Torrique Borges, Accounts Administrator at LAL Cape Town.

  The schools that took part in this year’s Market Report on South Africa’s English teaching industry reported a mixed year in 2009, with the recession affecting business.

  Compared with 2008, student numbers at Good Hope Studies in Cape Town fell by six-to-seven per cent and a decline was also seen at International House Cape Town (IH). IH Managing Director, Gavin Eyre, states, “[Student numbers were] down on our projected figures by about 25-30 per cent.”

  For some schools, the decreased volume of students at the beginning of 2009 was followed by growth through the rest of the year. For example, Luanne McCallum from Interlink School of Languages in Cape Town, says, “The first six months of 2009 were very quiet as a result of the recession. However, we had a complete turnaround in July 2009 and have had a steady increase since then.” And despite a quiet second and third quarter in 2009, EC Cape Town experienced an increase compared with 2008.

  For other South African language schools, the year was very positive. Tania Copeland relates that numbers at the International English School in Somerset West rose by 17 per cent. And at Wits Language School, part of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, there was a 23 per cent increase in student numbers between 2008 and 2009 with good results from China, Turkey and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Trish Cooper at the school adds, “We try to ensure that every course has a fair distribution of students from around the world.”

  Germany, South Korea, Brazil, Switzerland and Angola were important student recruitment sources for LAL and International House Cape Town, and for the past three-to-four years, Korea and Brazil were the strongest student market sources for Good Hope Studies. In contrast, EC Cape Town and Interlink School of Languages were mostly dependent on European students. Overall, according to our LTM Status Survey, Brazil, Korea and Germany are the most important student source markets for South Africa (see above).

  According to EC Cape Town Centre Director, Sue Camilleri, “The economic slowdown coupled with a weak British pound had a negative impact on European arrivals.” However, since having more agents, Interlink has seen an “increase in European students [and] Africa continues to be a good market”, counters McCallum.

  In terms of competition, Australia was considered to be a big threat to South African language schools by some. Camilleri explains, “Australia would be one of the most important [competitors], since it is a long-haul destination [for Europeans] with a similar climate.”

  Graser also says they are competing against Malta and LAL’s spokesperson reveals that Canada, the USA and Ireland are considered their main competitors. Meanwhile, Copeland, founder of the International English School, says, “I am competing with Cape Town schools as we are located 40 minutes outside [the city].”

  The work of national association, EduSA, has had a positive effect when it comes to boosting the country’s profile against potential competitors. “During the course of 2009 there have been two fam trips organised by EduSA, one for Turkish agents in August and one for Italian agents in November,” says Camilleri. “All were very pleasantly surprised with the destination… and will be promoting it in their respective countries.”

  Despite a lacklustre year, most schools in South Africa expect business to grow in the future. Camilleri says, “We can already see some agents asking for special programmes around the World Cup period… generally English plus sports or English plus internships.” Eyre notes, “Pointers are very good so far” and Annaëlle Melanie Moothoo at Cape Studies adds, “We are expecting a lot of German and Brazilian students.”

Programme demand

At Good Hope Studies in Cape Town the standard and intensive courses have sold best for many years. Likewise, LAL Cape Town and Cape Studies Language School report that they recruit the majority of their students onto general English programmes while at EC, both general and intensive English courses remain popular with students, followed by academic year programmes.

Torrique Borges from LAL Cape Town suggests this is because many students wish to spend some time getting to know the country as well as studying. “Our general English programme is still our most popular... [as] it gives our students the opportunity to study, but also gives them time to explore Cape Town,” he says.

Meanwhile, at Interlink School of Languages in Cape Town, intensive English has become more popular than the general programme. Luanne McCallum at the school says, “I think students feel it is good value for their money.”

  Managing Director at International House Cape Town, Gavin Eyre, notes that the number of students on long-term programmes has increased considerably along with those on IH Study & Work and IH Study & Volunteer programmes. Tania Copeland at the International English School has also seen more students opting to take longer-term (three-to-nine-month) courses.

In general, schools expect more internship-oriented courses to be requested this year, although general English courses will remain top.

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