||Australia announces review in bid to stem student slide
After reviewing the international student experience, the Australian government has announced that it is to review its student visa system, in a bid to halt the decline of the AUS$18 billion (US$18 billion) international student industry. The review was announced in December at the same time as changes to various visa assessment levels were introduced, to come into effect from April.
The assessment level changes will mean that 38 nationalities will have an assessment level lowered across one or more subclasses, making the conditions for entry into Australia easier to meet. One important aspect of the changes is that students from India and China two of the top nationalities for higher education in the country will only have to provide evidence of funds to cover two years of their living costs in Australia instead of the previous three years.
Allen Consulting, commissioned by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (Acpet), produced a study last year which forecast that a downturn in international students will have an economic cost in terms of lost exports of US$546 million by 2012. The English language sector is predicted to be the worst hit, with a loss of US$1.1 billion in income by 2012, while higher education exports are expected to increase by US$900 million and the vocational and school sector will contract by US$340 million.
Sue Blundell, Executive Director of English Australia, welcomed the fact that the visa review was a joint initiative by the immigration and tertiary education ministries. “The announcement recognises both the need for a strategic, long-term approach to ensuring a sustainable future for the sector but also puts in place some immediate measures that will restore confidence,” she said.
Peter Coaldrake, Chair of Universities Australia and Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, commented, “This review must show that Australia is serious about improving its procedures and correcting the negative perception that has arisen.” He said that it was not only a strong Australian dollar but also a perception that Australia was not welcoming or safe that was contributing to the current malaise, which comes after eight years of growth.
Bell International College Cambridge gets upgrade
Bell Educational Trust is upgrading the facilities at Bell International College Cambridge to include a redesigned learning centre with a roof terrace and a flexible social and dining space. The school has recently benefitted from improved classrooms with interactive technology and new dining facilities.
Will Kinsman, Director of Sales and Marketing, said, “Our aim is to change lives by providing exceptional study and cultural experiences and to do this we continue to invest in our facilities. One particularly exciting aspect of our current project is the flexible social space, which will give students even more opportunities to learn and communicate in a relaxed setting.”
New interim visa system launched in New Zealand
International students applying for a visa to study while in New Zealand will be able to study in the country on an interim visa while their actual study permit is processed, after changes were introduced in February this year as part of the new Immigration Act.
This means that if prospective students are already in the country lawfully, on a tourist visa, for example, then an interim visa will allow them to start studying immediately. Previously, students had to undergo police checks and medical examinations prior to changing their visa category to that of a student.
New Zealand’s Immigration Minister, Jonathan Coleman, explained that the process should be far easier. He said, “[Applicants] still have to meet all our standard criteria, but the visa provides peace of mind for students and makes the enrolment process smoother for education providers.” It also means that students can renew their student visa or work visa using the same process; full visa applications must be decided within six months.
Another change introduced in the new Immigration Act means that international students only have to provide police checks and medical certificates every three years, rather than the previous two yearly requirement. Coleman said, “These certificates can be expensive for students to obtain and sometimes applications are returned because certificates have expired. This change will make it that bit easier and cheaper. Now a student studying for a Bachelor’s degree at university will only have to provide one medical certificate at the beginning, rather than a second one part-way through their study.”
Research by the New Zealand Department of Labour released this year shows that of 70,000 international students granted permits to study each year, around 31 per cent work or gain permanent residence in the country.
VAT rise on accommodation in Malta
Language schools in Malta have been told that they will not be able to claim any concessions against the two per cent VAT increase on accommodation that was introduced in January this year. Previously, schools were told to submit contracts signed before the VAT increase was announced in October last year in the hope of receiving a partial rebate.
The VAT increase from five per cent to seven per cent was announced during the Budget for 2011, after many language schools had already taken bookings from students for accommodation in 2011. Many argue that a grace period should have been implemented in order to give businesses the chance to absorb the extra charges into their prices.
Alex Fenech, President of Feltom, said that schools “will have no alternative but to absorb the costs themselves”. He estimates that the total costs incurred by language schools will be in the region of e500,000 (US$672,947).
Maryse Gatt from inlingua School of Languages in Malta said that language schools in the country were already struggling after a difficult two years due to the effects of the global recession. “The increase in VAT on accommodation, which came into force on January 1, is an unwelcome measure and added burden on EFL schools since we all plan ahead, set prices and sign our contracts as early as September 2010,” she said. “We cannot suddenly raise prices for students above those previously published and we will have no alternative but to absorb the cost ourselves.” She added that agreements with host families were also affected: “We will also be paying host families the net rate offered on signed contracts and they will not be affected by the VAT increase.”
However, Gatt added, “On a positive note, the additional revenue generated is to be allocated towards a strong marketing campaign by the Malta Tourism Authority with a view to increasing traffic towards Malta.”
TUI Education’s parent company hit by finance shock
A missing UK£117 million (US$187.5 million) was discovered last year in the finances of TUI Travel PLC, the parent company of TUI Education, which bought UK businesses EAC, Hampstead School of English and Manchester Academy of English in the UK last year.
As well as the departure of Finance Director, Paul Botwell, after the discovery of financial irregularities, two other senior non-executive directors resigned from the company earlier this year.
Andrew Fisher, Managing Director, Language Portfolio of TUI Education, said there was no impact of this incidence on the evolution of TUI Education’s Language portfolio, however Fisher made a speech during the LTM Star Awards last year outlining a commitment to acquire new businesses and expand the brand.
“Peter Long, Chief Executive of TUI Travel, has publicly stated that he is confident that this issue is now resolved,” said Fisher. “The language portfolio of TUI Education has nothing to do with the UK tour operating business and the historic accounting issues. We continue to trade extremely positively and TUI continues to recognise this sector as a major growth area in both the near future and beyond.”
Meanwhile, EAC has announced that Simon Gooch, previously at Kaplan, is its new Managing Director. “He will contribute greatly to the continuing expansion of EAC,” said Fisher, whom Gooch replaces.
Archer Education Group closes down
Following the closure of Archer College Vancouver, BC and Archer College Hamilton, ON in December 2009, Archer Education Group Canada has announced that all of its Toronto-based schools, including a language school, a high school preparatory college and a vocational college, have now ceased operations. The company also had support offices in São Paulo in Brazil, Seoul in Korea and the Czech Republic.
Regina Popmarkova, who dealt with International Business Development on behalf of Archer Education Group, said, “We were trying to keep our schools going however [they were] unable to recover from the economic downturn of 2008.”
Linda Auzins from language school association, Languages Canada, said that as the group were not members of Languages Canada, their students were not entitled to any help under the association’s Education Completion Assurance Plan. She said that they had not had contact with the owners. “I had heard that the Hamilton school closed and the Toronto school’s students were moved to the high school... and recently that the Vancouver school had closed too. I’ve had a number of enquiries from agents looking for outstanding payments and I tried to call Vancouver but the phone was out of order.”
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