|In New Zealand, there is concern among schools that press reports will dissuade parents from sending their children to the country, and the government is to send a taskforce to China to allay fears about safety in the country. The People's Daily newspaper in China reported in an article earlier this year that students are getting involved in kidnapping, blackmailing, stealing and drug trafficking while studying overseas. It warned, 'In the last two years, there has been an upward tendency in immoral behaviour and vicious cases incurred by international students in Australia and New Zealand'. So, some people are reduced to criminals while others their victims.'
Incidents have been reported in recent months in both countries, and one judge in New Zealand warned that cases were likely to rise as the Chinese population increases. The Waikato Times reported that Judge Neil MacLean made the comments as he sentenced three Asian men - including two students - for kidnapping, aggravated robbery and assault of other Asian students in Waikato. The trio kidnapped three students and held them captive in a hotel, while extorting NZ$6,000 (US$3,423) from them.
In Australia, four Chinese students were charged earlier this year with the violent kidnapping of a Sydney restaurateur. He was held for two days and only released after his family paid the students the AUS$600,000 (US$385,852) ransom, which was later recovered by police.
Robert Ho, the business partner of the restaurateur involved, urged students to inform police about crimes that happened to them, but he told The Australian newspaper that fear of reprisals and the language barrier prevented this from happening. 'Student crime can only be controlled if victims help police track down the perpetrators,' he said.
Sue Blundell at English Australia (EA) said that the association had been working with police in New South Wales, where most of the incidents have occured. 'EA has been cooperating with the police to incorporate [advice] into colleges' standard orientation packages,' she said, adding, 'Police have been careful not to exaggerate the problem, saying it is only a very small minority of students, across all education sectors.'
In New Zealand, the government is taking the problem seriously - not least because Chinese students make up the bulk of foreign students. Tony Browne, Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry Spokesperson, said, 'It is not simply a perception of the media, but a concern at the highest level of Chinese government.'
The Beijing mission, which was being planned at the time of going to press, will see Education Minister, Trevor Mallard, and industry representatives, including Robert Stevens from Education New Zealand, meeting with the Chinese Education Minister.
The industry is underlining its new improved Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care for International Students, updated in July, with providers given until January to adopt the new standards. Stevens said, 'The revised code... puts New Zealand at the forefront of best practice in the care and well-being of international students from around the world.'
Mallard has also introduced a new law banning under-10 year olds from studying in the country without a parent or legal guardian, and under-13 year olds will need special approval. Boarding schools are exempt from the rule. The move is part of a tightening up of regulations aimed at restoring confidence overseas in the reputation of New Zealand's fourth-biggest export economy.
There have been concerns about the care provided for unaccompanied young students, many of whom come from Korea.
School chain in NZ goes under
Modern Age Institute of Learning, a language school chain in New Zealand that had five campuses, closed earlier this year, although an investor was found for the Christchurch branch. The news prompted the New Zealand government to call for the education export levy to be increased to ensure students are not left without accommodation.
While other language schools stepped in to offer students alternative tuition arrangements, the government was forced to bail out students whose monies paid for accommodation had 'gone elsewhere'. Education Minister, Trevor Mallard, said, 'It is not a matter of taxpayer generosity, it is my intention to shift the levy which these language schools pay... so it will cover these costs.'
Five hundred students were enrolled at the schools when they closed. It was one of the country's largest language school chains.
Robert Stevens of Education New Zealand praised the way the industry rallied around to look after Modern Age students. Language schools in New Zealand have to have a student fee protection policy in place.
'The collapse is a lesson to us all,' he said. 'All institutions owe it to their industry to ensure that they are [adopting] best possible financial practice.' Stevens added that the levy should not be used for fee protection as its sole purpose. It was set up to foster better quality practice and enhance country-wide marketing.
Many other schools, including Carich Training Centre in Christchurch and Hawthorn English Language Centre in Auckland, are laying off staff, as Chinese student numbers drop.
Co-Director of the Modern Age Institute of Learning, Adrian Gray, told creditors at a meeting in September that the trust fund required to be held for students by law, under the Education Act, was empty. More than NZ$500,000 (US$285,225) had disappeared this year, he said, according to a report in The Dominon Post.
The Association of Private Providers of English Language (Appel) has forwarded a complaint about alleged fraud at the school to New Zealand's Serious Fraud Office. "We want to signal to our industry, our markets and our wider community that any potential financial irregularities will be pursued," said Appel Chairperson, Patrick Ibbertson.
Liquidators estimate that the school, with multiple sites, had debts of NZ$4.4 million (US$2.5 million). All of the school's students however were placed with other schools within one week of Modern Age's collapse, thanks to quick action by members of the Combined Registered English Language Schools (Crels) organisation and Appel, of which Crels schools are a member.
The Christchurch branch of Modern Age that was sold is now operating under the name Global College. It faces a full audit in November by regulating body, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, allowing it time to put new systems in place.
Spain, Saudi Arabia start young
Spain's Education Minister, Pilar del Castillo, has announced that Spanish children will start learning a foreign language from the age of six, rather than eight.
She also revealed that students entering university in Spain will be required to pass an oral exam in a foreign language from 2005. Del Castillo said that the move was essential for Spain to keep up with the rest of Europe in terms of linguistic ability.
The revalida exam - a part of university entrance requirements - will be modified to encompass the oral test. Del Castillo said the move would 'increase the motivation of students to learn the power of expression in a foreign language'. But the Student Union in Spain has protested against the move, saying such competency is unachievable without native language teachers and investment in language labs, according to the TES newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian government announced in August that it will introduce English language classes for the last year of primary school from the 2004 academic year. Currently, English language learning begins one year later, in the first year of 'intermediate schooling'. Acting Culture and Information Minister, Ali Al-Namlah, announced that the cabinet agreed to a proposal to introduce the teaching of English as a main subject in sixth grade.
Standards in English language teaching for older students are also to be improved. The Saudi Press Agency reported that improvements would be made, according to Al-Namlah, by 'updating curricula, enhancing the competence of teachers and using modern technologies'.
Ialc continues to expand
The International Association of Language Centres (Ialc) continues to grow, having admitted a further 10 language teaching centres to its network. It has also welcomed new school branches of existing member schools into the fold. Despite having strict criteria for entry and a rule limiting the number of school members from each destination, demand to join Ialc remains high among language schools around the world.
The 10 latest schools to have joined are Solexico and Becari Language School in Mexico; Academia Tica in Costa Rica; Latin Immersion in Chile and Argentina; European School of English and Bels in Malta; the London School of English, Language Specialists International and Canterbury Language Training in the UK; and Institut Linguistique Adenet and Alpha B from France.
Jan Capper at Ialc explained that all schools underwent a thorough inspection process prior to joining the association.
New schools/acquisitions abound
A number of new schools/branches have been opening up this year. Wollongong University College Network in Australia opened its new Auckland campus in New Zealand earlier this year, and plans for a fourth college location, as well as Wollongong and Sydney, are already underway.
Also in Australia, the South Australian College of English has opened the Whitsundays College of English at Airlie Beach. In New Zealand, Language Schools New Zealand, operating in Queenstown and Christchurch, has opened a branch in Wellington. Finally, in the UK, Regent Language Training has acquired the Cambridge School of Languages, now to be known as Regent Cambridge.