March 2012 issue

News Round Up
Inside the industry
Advisor Survey
Secondary Focus 1
Secondary Focus 2
Tertiary Focus 1
Tertiary Focus 2
Vocational Focus
Special Report
Course Guide
City Focus
Market Analysis

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Summer learning

Against the odds, the 2011 summer season proved its resilience to economic uncertainty with enrolment figures at some schools reaching all-time highs. But client demand has changed with a strong trend towards more serious learning objectives noted by many education providers and advisory centres. Gillian Evans reports.

For many education advisory centres and course providers the summer season makes up the bulk of business. For example, Irina Kuzmenko, PR Manager at DEC Education advisory centre in the Ukraine, reports that around 70 per cent of their clients choose to take a language programme in the summer months. The performance of the summer sector is therefore vital to the overall wellbeing of many in the language travel industry. And 2011 did not disappoint.

At Inturjoven Spanish Courses in Spain summer enrolments, which make up 70 per cent of their total annual business, were up by 25 per cent in 2011 in comparison with the previous year, affirms the school’s Maximo Sepulveda. Demand from European markets rose considerably, he adds.

In the UK, Jim Ward, Principal of Brighton International Summer School (BISS), reports that in their 30 years of operation they have never experienced such high demand as they did last year. “There might be a recession,” muses Ward, “but parents all seem happy to pay for their children to learn English.”

Norman Renshaw at InTuition in the UK echoes this view. “I think that many European families are looking to invest in education by saving money on their annual family holiday, so instead of a two-week family beach holiday they are investing in sending their son or daughter to go on an English language programme.”

What’s more, despite the pressures on personal finances, summer clients are still willing to pay for premium-priced packages, says Brian Brownlee, Director of St. Giles International Junior Summer Camps in the UK. “We ran six residential junior centres in 2011 [including in] Oxford, Kingston and Canterbury,” he relates. “Price is surprisingly not a big factor in driving our numbers – Oxford and Canterbury are among our most expensive options.”

Even long-haul destinations, which involve higher travel costs for students, are holding share in the summer market. Mena Bal, Student Counsellor and Administrator at Study English in Canada, says that their summer enrolments were up by 21 per cent in 2011 in comparison with 2010. Although the debt crisis in Europe caused a decline in their total annual European enrolments, it did not have a significant impact on their summer numbers. 

Ian Pratt at Lexis English in Australia confirms this trend. “Our courses have definitely increased in popularity in Europe in recent years,” he says, “and this has led to a sharp increase in the average course length – it’s a long way to come to Australia for just a couple of weeks.” 

Josef Steinfels at Dr Steinfels Sprachreisen in Germany notes a trend towards dual centre stays, a move confirmed by Lesinda Leightley at LAL. “Our experience suggests that there is a market for longer stay summer courses. To this end, we have introduced the LAL USA two-centre course, which offers students the opportunity to experience two uniquely different American destinations.”

Consistent quality
A year-round language school’s enrolment chart can show a huge spike in student numbers during the peak summer months, which presents schools with the challenge of ensuring they offer consistent quality provision all year round. As William Rubinstein, Director of International House Nice in France, says, it can be difficult for a school “to offer the same quality of services with 140 students as it does when you only have 40 during the other months of the year”.

Indeed, owing to the sheer volume of students schools must deal with during the peak summer season, problems can and do arise, explains Sophia Fergus, Marketing Manager for EC, from staffing issues to factors totally beyond a school’s control (delayed flights, natural disasters such as the Icelandic ash cloud etc). Therefore, it is essential schools deal with them quickly and efficently. “We ensure a smooth running of our [summer] programme by having back up staff in place and 100 per cent committment to our agents to solving problems when they arise in the shortest time possible.”

One of the biggest strains on schools during the peak business months is on host family accommodation, as Julia Brown, Marketing & Communications Manager at St Brelade’s College in Jersey, points out. She says they get around the lack of host families by offering alternative accommodation options. “By providing additional accommodation in residences we can shift the focus to this which is now becoming more and more popular,” she reports. Nicole Jarrett at the London Language Centre in the UK says they control numbers requesting accommodation during the peak summer months by increasing the cost of services. “We increase the accommodation fees for the summer so that bookings are lower and more manageable, only those willing to pay higher rates get the accommodation service, rather than first come first serve,” she explains. At EC, meanwhile, Fergus confirms that they keep a close eye on bed availability so as to avoid over-allocation. “An allocation system enables one to control demand and supply of beds,” she says.

Typical summer client?
While the typical summer client is aged under 18 and looking for a mix of academic learning and fun activities, schools have noticed subtle changes in summer provision. A growth area, according to Rubinstein at IH Nice, is the “family programme” where children and parents can study simultaneously. Indeed, many providers report growing interest from both ends of the age spectrum, with increasing demand from younger juniors as well as clients falling into the 50 and over age category. As a result of this trend, ABC Languages in the UK offers a parent and child programme as well as a 50-plus language and culture course to appeal to the more mature language learner, affirms International Programme Manager, Heidi Sladen.

The expectations of the summer client may also be different from their year-round counterpart. Capucine Brochier at Alliance Française de Lyon in France, reports that although there is little difference between their average summer and year-round student profile – both wanting to learn French and usually wanting to take a French exam at the end – she adds, “The ways and targets [of each sector’s clients] are sometimes a little different. During the summer the students are usually on holiday and they more often want to learn and have entertainment at the same time.”

Stéphanie Charbit at Alliance Française Paris in France relates that to satisfy their summer clients’ desires for a more varied extracurricular timetable, they have a wider range of activities in the summer. “We offer different extra activities such as rally games in various neighbourhoods of Paris, extra cultural activities, mainly outdoors, and offer different thematic courses that are only offered during July and August,” she says.

What has changed, however, is that summer clients expect more from their language programme. “Customers are more demanding regarding [the] social programme, accommodation and food,” confirms Mark Hellyer, Academic Director at Language Study Centres in the UK.

At ABC Languages, Sladen relates that clients have become “more demanding about what they want from a course – especially with the use of review sites and the ability to compare feedback on other language schools”.

They also expect a full activity timetable and more targeted options, something to which many schools are responding. Caxton College in Spain has launched a new tennis and football campus in Spanish and English, which according to Marta Gómez at the college, has been “well received”, while Northumbria School of English in the UK is also expanding its range of additions for this year specifically to target a different age group to the traditional teens. “We are planning to offer English plus courses next year for older students,” relates Christine Goodwin at the school. “These will be in partnership with local experts – for example, English plus watercolour painting/drawing, and English plus adventure sports.”

Across the Atlantic, Jeffrey Lemke, Admissions Director at St Croix School in the USA, reports growing interest in specialised programmes, anything from intense academic tuition to English plus a specific sport.

Nonetheless, there is of course healthy demand for the traditional summer course combining tuition with fun excursions and activities. Christina Helten, Online PR & Marketing Manager at Sprachcaffe, says their most popular programme is their under-20s course in Malta, which provides students with language learning against a backdrop of restaurants, discos, bars and beach activities. But, as evidenced by Silc – Séjours Linguistiques in France, providers are constantly fine-tuning their products. As a summer camp operator with specialities like cooking and drawing available, the school recently opened up its camps to French children so international students can mix with native French speakers.

Academic focus
There is, however, a strong demand among summer clients for more targeted learning programmes such as academic preparation, as Kuzmenko at DEC Education confirms. “The most popular course [among DEC clients] for summer 2011 was academic English. Also our clients asked about English plus courses – drama, sports, arts, etc. Some years ago summer clients were interested in general programmes [combining] English [with] activities and excursions. Now the situation has changed and students are mostly interested in academic programmes as they are looking for educational opportunities in the future.”

Supporting this view, Melanie Mohi at BWS Germanlingua in Germany reports that their exam preparation programme is now a top choice in the summer. “Summer demand has slightly changed with exams becoming more and more popular as well as more academic learning,” she says, adding that “the wish to just have some fun during the holidays is also not to be neglected”.

 In Canada, the English Language Centre at the University of Victoria recently extended its range of offerings to include an intensive academic programme for the summer. “This,” says Donald Mellings, Coordinator of Sociocultural Activities at the university, “allows our students to complete one more level of ESL during the summer and helps the students who are going on to degree studies.” Like Mohi, he notes that summer clients are not only looking for academic training. “Students have strong expectations for a summer programme,” he asserts. “They are expecting a strong academic programme along with a full complement of recreation, culture and activities,” he adds.

John Nicholson, Director of Marketing and Communications at ELS Educational Services in the USA, also notes the increase in academic focus among their summer clientele, especially among the 14-to-16 year old age group, while Ravi Lekh at Insight StudyUK in the UK reports growing interest in exam programmes. “The demand for exam-based courses is increasing, as students/teachers realise that going to a summer camp is great, but to take away a recognised qualification is really important,” he observes. “We are now a Trinity College exam centre, and about 90 per cent of our students [last] summer took the exam.”

Helen Lami, Director of Academic Summer in the UK, which offers preparation courses for GCSEs, A-levels and the IB Diploma as well as other programmes, says, “Academic courses are becoming more popular as they offer something different to the traditional English and activities. I think students will demand quality programmes offering them something different [as] they need international English for a purpose whether this is travel, work or study.” 

Summer course offerings are also becoming more targeted. Red Leaf in Canada is launching an English and eco-volunteering for teens aged 16-to-18. Explaining the move behind this development, Marylou Heenan, Red Leaf General Manager, says, “Teens want to do things with their English rather than study more English.”

Similarly, Bell International in the UK has launched a Young Achievers programme, a Young Business Leaders course and an Olympic package that celebrates the games being held in London this year, where students have the opportunity to visit an Olympic venue or attend an Olympic event. And in Canada, Study English in Canada (SEC) is offering an additional Presentation Skills module, designed to prepare students for public speaking and effective communication.

Universities are also seizing the trend towards more specialised learning. The Bauhaus Summer School at Bauhaus University Weimar in Germany offers both language and specialised courses in engineering and environment; architecture; art and design; and culture and media. “The focus is no longer concentrated on the language courses,” reports Theresa Beier at the university’s international office. “Since 2010 the language and the specialised courses have an equal status and we think that the specialised courses will become more and more important.”

Looking ahead, forecasts are muted by global economic uncertainty. “It is likely that the economic downturn affected the summer market in 2011 and will continue to have a delayed impact upon different countries and economic areas, filtering through to consumers making their holiday and study travel plans,” observes Sladen at ABC Languages in the UK.

Heenan at Red Leaf echoes this view. “It will be harder and harder to maintain numbers for the summer until the world economy improves as parents have to be careful about spending their disposable income. Summer programmes will have to evolve to provide more than English and travel to keep attracting large numbers of students,” she observes.

It is not all gloomy, though. As was evident in the 2011 summer season, losses from one nationality could be made up from higher enrolments in another. This may indeed boost overall numbers for 2012, and some sources already report promising initial bookings. “We already have waiting lists,” reports Justin Wismer, Director of London Language Institute in Canada. “We are anticipating a great summer despite some of the economic issues in Europe.”

Nationality trends

While for some summer education providers, European numbers as a whole have remained buoyant, closer analysis of summer enrolment figures from individual countries reveals a very mixed picture. Tony Anderson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Bell International in the UK, reports that despite a bumper year of growth in 2011, student numbers were down from Spain owing to the economic climate and from Japan as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and resultant tsunami.

Red Leaf in Canada was similarly affected by the situation in Europe, as Marylou Heenan at the school reports. “Enrolment was down 13 per cent due to the strength of the Canadian dollar and the weakness of the euro and the economic uncertainty in Europe.” But she goes on to say that their enrolments from Japan were up by 50 per cent. “The earthquake in Japan did not affect numbers as parents plan long in advance for their children to travel.”

For Shane Global Language Centres in the UK, losses from Europe were caused by the economic downturn as well as some cancellations because of the riots in London and unrest in the Middle East. But growing numbers from new markets more than compensated for these losses, which resulted in a bumper summer season with enrolments up considerably on the previous year. “We were able to tap into a market that has great potential for the future with the Chinese market [opening] up and also the Russian and Lebanese markets picking up,” observes the school’s Steven Reznek.

Andrew Disney, Marketing Executive at the Cambridge Education Group, which has language study centres in the UK and USA, also puts their growth in 2011 down to higher demand from China and Central Asia in particular, and says that they forecast strong growth from Russia for this year. Disney also reports that in 2011 they experienced “a huge spike” in the number of sponsored students going to the UK with EU grants especially from countries such as Spain and Italy.

However, the economic squeeze on individual countries will undoubtedly affect government funding this year, which will have an adverse affect on student numbers this summer season. London Language Centre in the UK already experienced a drop in grant-assisted students last year. “We have seen a decline in students coming to us with the Spanish government’s Becas MEC sponsorship,” reports Nicole Jarrett at the centre. “In 2010 we had almost 100 of these in one summer alone, this year less than five. We imagine this was due to the Eurozone crisis.”

Return visits

Although the summer season may throw up certain challenges for course providers, such as maintaining sufficient quality staff and accommodation to cater to the increased number of students, it certainly is worthwhile as the repeat bookings rate is high. As Justin Wismer, Director of London Language Institute in Canada, testifies, “If you offer a high quality programme students will return.”

According to Ravi Lekh at Insight StudyUK in the UK, last summer they had around 45 per cent repeat clients, and this, he says, “shows us that we must be doing something right”. Steven Reznek from Shane Global Language Centres in the UK says they have students returning every year for four or five years in a row.

Word-of-mouth recommendations work well in the summer too, as Marion Feuchtenberger-Lenzen, Director of Studies at GLS Sprachenzentrum in Germany, points out. “About 20 per cent in our junior summer camps are repeat bookings, some of them bringing siblings or friends.” Sophia Fergus at EC also notes that referrals are common, especially where younger learners are concerned, as “parents tend to trust the recommendations of other parents”.

In addition, the summer sector can act as a taster for a school’s other offerings. As David Sampere at Estudio Sampere in Spain points out, they offer a young adults programme for 16-to-18 year olds to cater to the demand created by former junior students. “Vacation programmes,” muses Wismer, “should not be about profit margins. They should be a way to showcase your school for your full-time students in the future.”

Thomas Denman at Regent Edinburgh in the UK agrees. He notes that their repeat bookings often involve more specific course options required by the students as they get older, for example, university preparation. At ELS Education Services in the USA, John Nicholson, Director of Marketing and Communications, relates a similar experience. “Age range structure limits repeat bookings into youth programmes, but there is a high enrollment percentage into our adult programmes,“ he says.

Schools that enjoy such high repeat bookings do, however, have to ensure they are constantly freshening up their programmes to provide returning students with new experiences. “We are constantly reviewing our courses, and we continuously refresh the content and set up of the international summer school to ensure that both returnees and new visitors get the most out of their time,” relates Heidi Sladen, International Programme Manager at ABC Languages in the UK. “In summer 2011 we moved the summer school to new premises and were able to offer fantastic facilities such as brand new classrooms, furniture, and interactive whiteboards. Due to the high volume of returnees that we have to our summer courses each year, we aim to give them a new experience each time they visit,” she adds.

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