||Currency woes threatening agency business
Weak currency rates are affecting several key student markets in 2015, with the ailing euro in particular threatening outbound business from Eurozone countries and leading study travel agents to call for partner support.
The euro has steadily depreciated against the UK pound from €1.20 on March 26, 2014 to €1.41 on March 12 this year, while the exchange rate with the US dollar dropped from €0.70 to €0.94 in the same period, although both rates have slightly stabilised since.
Pascal Carré, Director of Languages & Travel in Belgium and Vice President of the Federation of Education and Language Consulting Associations (Felca), said the situation had changed suddenly since the end of last year.
One of the problems for agents is that they have little room for manoeuvre, he said. “Prices were fixed for the year and it is always difficult to put the prices up when published.”
Explaining the impact on students, Carré said, “Our clients are affected and tend to book shorter courses in the summer; book one-week bookings instead of two; or do not buy courses at all but other services like au pair and work-guaranteed programmes.”
Julia Richter at German association FDSV said most members were reporting stable student numbers this year, but that the currency situation had had differing impacts on margins depending on the size of the company.
Larger agencies able to purchase stocks of currency were able to keep selling at regular prices with no negative effects, she said. “Small agents with no currency hedges do have problems, as they change prices for dollar and GBP destinations very often and they have difficulties in being competitive with prices of other providers.”
Paolo Barilari, Director of Lingue Nel Mondo agency in Italy and a board member of Italian agency association Ialca, said the exchange rate with the British pound, traditionally the most popular destination for Italian students, was causing serious problems for agencies.
“For an average Italian family, which used to be the backbone of our business, spending much more that €2,000 for a two-week junior course is not a rewarding investment any longer and sometimes the prices are even closer to €2,500,” said Barilari.
The same problem was afflicting programmes in the USA, with the added negative impact of flight costs. As a result, “a large number of our students are now choosing Ireland for their English courses,” Barilari said.
The promotion of English programmes within the Eurozone was highlighted by several agents. “We are currently pushing new programmes in Ireland and Malta to compensate the probable loss in other markets,” said Carré. “It is difficult to justify why the same number of hours of classes costs 20 per cent more in the UK than in Ireland or Malta.” Richter also confirmed some German member agencies have reported increasing enquiries for Ireland and Malta this year.
European agents are looking for support from school partners during the currency struggles. “The support we would expect from non-Eurozone countries is lower fees a corresponding decrease of tuition and enrolment fees to compensate the unfavourable exchange rate,” said Carré. STM has already seen emailed offers of increased commissions and discounted tuition prices sent to European agencies.
Another recommendation Carre made to schools was to consider offering commission payments on accommodation. “Some schools do it, some do not, and we tend to favour those who do,” he said.
The strong dollar and pound are also impacting on other student markets. Brazil is suffering from a dual economic and political crisis that could potentially “paralyse the market”, Carlos Robles, President of Brazilian agency association Belta said to STM. At the recent Alphe Brazil conference, several agencies advised that the weakened real valued at around US$2.32 a year ago and US$3.20 at the time of writing was damaging business. As a result of the rates, Canada and Ireland were likely to benefit, agents said.
List of UK-approved English test centres revealed
The UK Home Office has released further details of UK-approved Ielts test centres worldwide, following the recent announcement on streamlining of the Secure English Language Test (SELT) system (see STM, April 2014, page 6).
The Ielts SELT Consortium, which comprises the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment, is operating 206 UK-approved test centres in 137 countries according to a list published on the Home Office website. There are 109 permanent centres across 52 countries, while the remainder are “pop-up” test centres.
Students that need to submit a test certificate for their visa application which includes students applying for pathway/foundation courses and non-degree tertiary programmes will need to attend a UK-approved test centre under the new rules.
Higher education institutions are still permitted to verify language skills for degree-level courses and above. A spokesperson for Ielts said, “It’s important to note that UK Visas and Immigration have confirmed that the Tier 4 rules have not changed so those who are applying for a Tier 4 student visa to a Highly Trusted Sponsor to study for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree can apply with an Ielts result from any of the 1,000+ Ielts test locations worldwide, unless their chosen institution has additional requirements.” Universities may also use alternative tests for this purpose.
The new SELT system restricts the number of test centre options available in several key markets. Thailand, for example, has only one UK-approved centre, while Brazil and Saudi Arabia have three each and Nigeria has two.
Speaking about capacity, Dr. Derar Bal’awi Regional Director - Research, Middle East & North Africa at IGEC agency in Saudi Arabia, said, “We are absolutely concerned about that.” He confirmed that around half of clients from the Gulf region pursue a pathway programme before continuing onto higher education programmes.
Addressing industry concerns about capacity, the Ielts Spokesperson said, “As specific administrative requirements are needed to run Ielts sessions for UK visa purposes, a smaller number of locations than those currently operating (non-SELT) Ielts tests will be able to provide Ielts tests for UK visa applications. The test centre network for these purposes has been planned to meet anticipated customer demand both in the UK and globally. We are working closely with UK Visas and Immigration to monitor the transition process and capacity closely, and on an ongoing basis, to ensure that customer demand is met.”
Within the UK, 10 Ielts test centres and 10 Trinity College London test centres are approved for UK visa applications under the new system. Tests formerly accepted under previous rules and taken before April 6 will be accepted in applications until November.
International students up in Japan
The number of international students at higher education level in Japan returned to growth in 2014 after three years of decline, while the language school sector increased long-term students by over a third, according to data released by the Japan Student Services Organisation (Jasso).
Higher education institutions had a total of 139,184 international students enrolled as of May 2014, a 2.7 per cent increase compared with the previous year and the second highest total ever recorded behind the peak year of 2010.
The number of international students at Japanese language institutes on student visas increased by 37.8 per cent from 32,626 in 2013 to 44,970 in 2014.
The largest increase came from Vietnam, which grew by 91 per cent to reach 26,439 students and became the second largest source. There was also substantial growth from Nepal up 79.9 per cent to 10,448 students while Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar all recorded double-digit percentage rises. China remains the largest source country with 94,399 students across all levels, but declined by 3.6 per cent; Korea, second in 2013, fell by 8.7 per cent to 15,777 students.
Tina Chung at Envision agency in Taiwan told STM the data represented part of a growing trend of intra-Asian study. “The Taiwanese student market is traditionally US orientated, but there is growing interest in other Asian countries because of the postgraduate job market.” As previously reported, Japan reported record numbers of international students staying to work in 2013 (see STM, November 2014, page 8).
New legislation harmful to ESL in BC, says Languages Canada
School association Languages Canada (LC) has urged British Columbia’s (BC) provincial government to reconsider legislation that could impact ESL educational tourism in the province.
Bill 7 (The Private Career Training Act) which was introduced to BC legislature in March, sees language programme providers falling under the same legislation as career training schools.
In an open letter to Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson, LC Executive Director, Gonzalo Peralta, stated, “[Bill 7] will not meet the objectives of protecting international students nor will it create an environment of growth and innovation for BC’s accredited language programmes as the BC government seems to think it will.”
In 2013, Languages Canada member schools in BC welcomed 52,823 international students. However, a sequence of changes to BC’s regulatory environment has resulted in a seven per cent drop in inbound numbers, said Peralta in the letter.
Peralta questioned how the language sector would fit into the new legislative framework, adding provincial government were trying to address the needs of various educational segments, but were failing to recognise their inherent differences. “Language programmes, even those in the private sector, are not career colleges…If we are to come under the same legislation as career colleges… it should be a separate section that addresses the needs of our students and institutions.”
The association criticised government’s decision not to oversee all language programmes in the province and the lack of safeguarding in the new bill. As it stands there is no financial or placement plan in place for students should a school or college close.
Meanwhile, at the recent Languages Canada Conference in Gatineau, the Quebec-based member contingent said they remained in a state of designation limbo provincial government has so far refused to designate private language schools in the province.
The loss of the combined language plus work programme, which previously reprented 15 per cent of member business, has also been significant, said Peralta. In a session, Citizen and Immigration Canada’s Melissa Fama, warned the sector, “Work experience in Canada is a privilege, not an immediate right.” However, she impressed the government department would continue its dialogue with the association to counter challenges.
A2Z School of English closes
A2Z School of English in the UK has ceased trading, leaving study travel agents out of pocket and prompting activation of English UK’s emergency support fund for displaced students.
The closure on March 16 of the schools Manchester and London centres followed the January shutdown of A2Z in Dublin, Ireland. In a letter, Director James Taylor said, “The immediate cause for the failure of all companies includes an outstanding debt of more than UK£30,000 (US$44,407) from the Libyan embassy for tuition already provided.”
Addressing creditors, including agents, Taylor said the companies had “insufficient realisable assets and no funds with which to appoint an insolvency practitioner”. He said the company would be “in limbo” until either struck from the register by Companies House or wound up through the High Courts by a creditor.
A2Z said the London school would reopen under new ownership, but no details were available at the time of writing. English UK, of which A2Z was a member, was preparing to enact its fund and was urging displaced students to contact them. The Dublin A2Z school was not a member of MEI, meaning no tuition protection scheme was in place. Students were initially offered transfers to the UK centres.
New Malaga summer course for Enforex
Spanish language provider Enforex has launched a new international summer camp in Malaga, Spain, for students aged five-to-18.
Located at high school Colegio Unamuno, the residential international summer camps will include 60 per cent domestic students.
“These courses allow international youths to make Spanish friends their age, acquire a deep understanding of the Spanish way of life and increase their awareness of a variety of cultures,” said Antonio Anadon, Owner and Founder of Enforex and parent company Ideal Education Group.
“Malaga camp is located in one of the most exclusive residential areas of Malaga and is just a short walk from the beach. Its location is ideal for facilitating many excursions and visits both to Malaga and places of interest in the region.
“The school offers some of the best views of Malaga and the coast and it offers excellent academic, sports and recreational facilities where students will be able to enjoy camps with themes such as padel tennis, soccer or creativity.”
Enforex acquired Malaga Sí, a year-round language school in the city, last year.
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