Attending an international workshop organised for the study abroad business is a high point in the schedule for many in the industry. These events provide an opportunity to touch base with friends and colleagues and find out about market trends and changes in other countries, as well as furthering business opportunities.
This year's Alphe Workshop in London and International Languages & Education UK Fair in Brighton were no different, with good business and great socialising opportunities a common feature of both workshops. Finding out about new business opportunities and market trends is a constant process as each year new initiatives and ideas hit the marketplace. For example, at the Alphe Workshop, an innovative new product was introduced to agents - English language learning through farmstay in Australia. And in Brighton, an English language school in a new destination, English in Barbados, was launched.
Not only do the types of product evolve with work experience, internships and volunteer programmes becoming popular, for example, but the ways in which business is done also evolve. In our article on pricing policy, we highlight different ways in which agencies sell schools' products on to clients, with the contentious issue of discounting now occurring in some markets. The general agreement seems to be that working with one standard price is preferred but some schools point out that it is difficult for them to control agent practices.
As the marketplace continues on its slow diversification process, there is more reason than ever for schools, colleges and universities to make an effort to stand out from the crowd. Such efforts were being made at workshops this year - from impressive photo tours of a school to the gifts bestowed on agents by potential partners. This year, one school in London was offering apples to agents, complete with a company sticker!
Agencies also need to make the same effort to stand out from the crowd in their local marketplace. Apart from excellent service and the ensuing word-of-mouth recommendation that this generates, agencies might specialise in placements to one country to capture a strategic market. One of our survey respondents in Taiwan indicates that they represent only the UK, although the UK remains the most popular country across all other agencies' business.
The UK seems in danger of losing favour with Chinese students at the moment, conversely, as the level of visa refusal rockets. Universities, colleges and language schools have all noted problems in this area. A seminar on visa issuance held during the Brighton workshop did offer institutions and agents the chance to meet relevant UK visa authorities, although case-by-case analysis was not possible.
For agents, being able to offer consistency in visa service is as important as a good product range. Tapping into the zeitgeist in terms of products means offering programmes with a difference. We provide a guide to Spanish language programmes combined with additional cultural activities for agencies keen to work with interest-led courses in the Spanish market .
Standing out from the crowd is a primary goal of the language schools' associations in the marketplace too, on a national level. And as we find out, communicating the quality distinction of an association's membership to agents has also taken on a priority for many of these associations in the last few years.