|As the international education industry has developed and matured, the number of representative associations has grown, and at the same time their role has expanded. In a number of markets, more than one association exists to represent the interests of language schools, and each has its own particular areas of specialism.
For many language school associations, the regulatory environment is a major preoccupation. Student visas in particular can be a thorny issue for the industry, and remain an area of focus for both Australian associations. Acpet';s Ruth Rosen notes that Acpet played an important role in lobbying for positive changes to the student visa programme, which "made an enormous difference to the English language visas from Korea and Colombia in the past year". Meanwhile, English Australia (EA)';s Sue Blundell highlights the fact that EA';s lobbying efforts persuaded the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) to organise a government/industry workshop on the language requirements for student visas, and a discussion paper is now being developed that will take the issue forward.
Success in such matters generally results from sustained efforts over a period of time, and intense lobbying has also been undertaken in a number of other markets over the past year although not always, as yet, with a positive outcome. Indeed, most of the issues on which Education New Zealand has been lobbying over the past year such as a review of the New Zealand Immigration Act and tertiary sector reform are work in progress, as Communications Director, Stuart Boag, relates.
In Ireland, where the focus for MEI~Relsa has been primarily upon visa issues, a new set of visa guidelines was introduced in March 2006, which now specifies the exact sum of money to which a student must have access when applying for a visa. However, despite its involvement in discussions with the Department of Justice, MEI~Relsa has been disappointed with the results so far. "The new guidelines, instead of making matters easier and more transparent, have actually made the process even more stringent and have imposed further restrictions," says the association';s Brian Burns.
Lobbying has therefore continued, including the presentation of a paper to the Irish parliament in May this year. At the same time, in Italy, Matteo Savini reports that Asils has been "desperately trying, without any success", to persuade the Italian government to include the study of the Italian language among the allowable criteria for granting a student visa. For both these bodies, efforts will continue in the future to improve the operating conditions of the industry.
The Maltese language schools association, Feltom, has also been lobbying its national visa authorities regularly over recent years, advising on ways in which other countries have handled the visa issue, and citing legislation in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. Feltom has been successful in gaining a replacement of the current 30-day renewable visa with a special visa for students that is valid for 12 months. Feltom President, John Dimech, believes that this will have a significant benefit for the industry in Malta. "We strongly believe that our market could reach…close to 100,000 students per year, in five to 10 years," he emphasises.
Visa issues are of such importance to the industry that even a cross-border organisation like Alto involves itself in this area. According to Thomas Engsig-Karup, Alto is closely monitoring the operation of the Sevis system in the United States, where the payment and visa application process has often caused problems. Engsig-Karup reports that Alto, together with its sister organisation Gwea (Global Work Experience Association), has published a review paper on the Sevis fee payment process, with the purpose of keeping members informed and pointing out flaws to the relevant authorities.
Aside from visas, lobbying has also taken place surrounding a wide variety of other issues. From the UK, Diana Lowe, Projects Executive at ABLS, reports that, after ABLS was omitted from the list of accreditation bodies in the Home Office questionnaire regarding the points-based visa system earlier this year, it has now successfully negotiated equal status with that of schools that are part of the Accreditation UK scheme managed by the British Council/English UK. Meanwhile, in France, Unosel saw a year of hard work reap its reward in May, when it was successful in obtaining an amendment to the French law, which will ensure that commercially-run language programmes are able to operate on the same terms as other, non-commercial providers.
In Australia, a major review of the main legislation governing the international education industry the Education Services for Overseas Students (Esos) Act will result in a new national code setting out standards by which providers will be assessed in respect of programmes for overseas students. EA has been lobbying to ensure that the resulting standards are "both reasonable and workable", while Acpet, according to Rosen, "has successfully argued for an equal playing field between government and non-government providers of higher education, and that quality assurance and consumer protection should remain high priorities".
Issues of quality
Quality assurance is indeed another major focus for many language school associations. In the absence of government regulation, this function is often fulfilled by the national educators'; association, many of which have been running their own accreditation schemes for some time. One body that has recently launched its own scheme is Feltom in Malta. Claiming this as one of the association';s major achievements, Dimech comments, "We believe that these standards will eventually spill over to non-member schools, either in the form of government legislation, or as agents demand higher standards from the organisations they work with."
In some cases, an association';s quality control is undertaken over and above any official, government scheme, as is the case with English New Zealand, whose own accreditation scheme sets standards that exceed those required by the compulsory government regime.
In France, the government currently has its own project to establish an official system of quality control for language schools. However, this is reportedly taking place without representation from interested industry associations, such as Fle.fr, L';Office and Unosel, or the Alliance Française, which have thus joined forces to lobby for industry input into the matter. Meanwhile, Fle.fr, which has long had its own code of ethics, recently decided to implement a new quality control system of its own. According to spokesperson, Alain Foubert, this will be one of its main objectives for 2007.
For international associations, Eaquals, Ialc and Tandem, the developing and upholding of quality standards is core to their existence. Membership is dependent upon meeting specific quality standards, which in turn represents an excellent marketing tool across borders.
With membership spread across a variety of countries and regions, these associations can offer agents a ready-made, high quality portfolio. In the past year, 10 new full members from five different countries have joined Eaquals, "after a rigorous two-day inspection", as Chief Executive, Richard Rossner reports. Tandem has also recruited five new member schools across Europe and North America. While Tandem has its own quality criteria, upheld by regular inspections, the association has recently joined Fiyto and Alto, to whose quality standards members are now also required to adhere.
A rigorous inspection system is critical to successfully maintaining standards, and in 2005 Eaquals launched version five of its Inspection Scheme Guide, which, according to Rossner, provides clear and very detailed quality criteria for would-be members and for Eaquals inspectors. From autumn 2006, it has also introduced a more systematic inspector-training scheme. Rossner notes that Eaquals has additionally made significant steps forward recently in providing tools for members to enhance their curriculum and assessment by relating them consistently to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its European Language Levels.
Marketing and promotion
Another core function of many language school associations is marketing, with shared quality standards providing a strong platform for joint campaigns. Canadian association, Capls, regularly promotes the association';s accreditation process, as Linda Auzins notes. At the same time, it continues to spearhead the lobby for an ‘Education Canada'; branding initiative. "To increase our education exports," explains Auzins, "Canada needs to create a greater global awareness of our expertise in business and professional training, technology training and language training. We need a strong and appealing brand, which will reflect Canada';s core values, personality and icons." Thus, a working group in Canada is starting to develop the desired projects and budget for this branding initiative.
Equally significantly, in April this year, Capls and fellow Canadian association CLC signed a formal memorandum of understanding for cooperation in a project to establish a means by which language schools or programmes accredited by either body can participate in the Study in Canada web portal (see Language Travel Magazine, August 2006, page 6). According to Auzins, the associations will work together in managing the database of accredited language programmes in conjunction with the Department of Canadian Heritage.
CLC, meanwhile, has secured the listing of its member programmes on the website of the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC). The importance of this is underlined by Jay Jamieson at CLC, who notes that the list will eventually become one of the reference tools used in the quality-linked issuance of student visa authorisations.
Back in Europe, Fedele in Spain has been focusing on the promotion of learning Spanish in Spain, recently renewing its agreement with Turespaña for an annual promotion plan. This includes an international advertising campaign, the restructuring of a "Teaching Spanish in Spain" database and making this available on the internet and the publication in several languages of a "Learning Spanish in Spain" catalogue representing Fedele members. The association is also, at the time of writing, negotiating the renewal of its cooperative agreement with the Instituto Cervantes .
Also focused primarily upon the promotion of its country as an educational destination is Italian in Italy. To this end, observes spokesperson, Pina Foti, it has recently created Federitaliano, a grouping of public and private institutions, in order to promote Italian language abroad as a vehicle of Italian culture and lifestyle. This is in addition to routine activities, including its annual agent workshop, familiarisation trips and other promotional ventures.
A number of new bodies have been formed over the past few years, and are now making their mark in various ways. The Asociación Mexicana de Institutos de Español (AMIE) was established in August 2005 to promote Mexico the world';s largest Spanish-speaking country as "the prime Spanish language study destination". Since then, notes spokesperson, Harriet Goff Guerrero, it has been working with the national Tourism Secretariat to gain nationwide publicity, and has taken part in the Tianguis Turistico in Acapulco. Although a number of organisations already represent language schools in different ways across national borders, a recent newcomer, Quality English (QE), has successfully carved a niche representing English language schools in five different countries and four continents of the world. In the three years since its founding, QE has focused on marketing and brand promotion. "The message we want to impart to agents," says spokesperson Carolyn Blackmore, "is that every single school bearing the QE brand is chosen for its quality, its reliability, its speed of response; all contributing to student satisfaction."
Another recent arrival has been the British Educational Travel Association (Beta), an umbrella body representing more general UK-based youth, student and educational travel organisations. As Executive Director, Emma English, explains, "Beta';s forward strategy is to pro-actively raise the profile of the sector through our political and public relations initiatives and to drive membership and its benefits both inside and outside of the UK. Additionally, we strive to ensure that we deliver regular and accurate information to our members on issues affecting the industry and to provide quality events."
For the unconverted
While many language schools enjoy the various benefits of membership of national or international associations of like-minded institutions, there are many others that operate without such support. Language Travel Magazine therefore asked some of the language school associations to spell out why any non-member should consider joining them.
English Australia';s Sue Blundell underlines the importance of the lobbying function. "The regulatory environment is complex and continuously changing individual colleges are powerless to influence this, unless they band together to create a ‘louder voice'; for lobbying purposes," she notes. "The huge growth in the accessibility of knowledge/information on a range of relevant subjects," she adds, "means colleges value the filtering role that the association provides in making sure they see the important information without wasting their time trying to find it e.g. synthesising a 250-page government report into two pages of key information."
Furthermore, she notes, any industry that plans to grow and develop needs a professional association that is going to continue to push for not only minimum standards, but also for best practice in the workplace.
Marcelo Cuestas, Marketing Manager for Tandem International, highlights the benefits of joint marketing action that enables small- or medium-sized schools to compete with large chains and groups of schools. "We develop promotional activities and perform permanent marketing efforts to contact language travel agents and educational institutions worldwide," he relates. "Our member institutes share common marketing resources [and] each school acts as an agent for each other within the network." Many associations, such as English New Zealand, are effectively promoted as a quality brand that can be trusted by agents and students alike.
Networking and the sharing of information are further useful services appreciated by many association members. According to Dawn Turton, President of UCIEP in the USA, "We [UCIEP] readily share information through a very active listserv and through our meetings. Each February we meet for a few days at a ranch in Texas to discuss current issues and to share ideas. Many of our members consider this to be a professional highlight of their year."
Association membership may also confer financial benefits to schools. Tony Millns of English UK explains, "Members… can make substantial financial savings through discounted rates at the fair organised by English UK, training days, Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) fees and discounts on Accreditation UK fees."
Clearly, different association bodies have different remits, and this is reflected in the different responses. Institutions also have varying needs and, as Stuart Boag of Education New Zealand, notes, "Most institutions adopt a pragmatic approach, using, accessing or leveraging off what is useful to them from the range of activities undertaken."
American Association of Intensive English Programs
• Promotion of professional standards
• Marketing and networking
Association of British Language Schools
• Membership support
• Workshops and sharing of best practice
• Networking and promotion
Australian Council for Private Education and Training
• Representing non-government providers of education and training
• Cross-sector discussions and lobbying
• Professional development services and networking opportunities for members
Association of Language Travel Organisations
• Providing trading opportunities
• Connecting schools and agents
• Research and market intelligence
Asociación Mexicana de Institutos de Español
• Promotion of Mexico as a study destination
• Professional development
• Quality standards
Associazione Scuole di Italiano come Lingua Seconda
• Political lobbying
British Educational Travel Association
• Trading opportunities
Canadian Association of Private Language Schools
• Promotion of Canada as a study destination
• Quality assurance
• Government lobbying and advocacy
Canada Language Council
• Quality assurance
• Networking for membership
European Association for Quality Language Services
• Inspection and accreditation
• Quality-related training, consultancy and networking services
• Facilitation and development of academic and service excellence
Education New Zealand
• Industry advocacy
• Generic marketing and promotion
• Managing collective industry resources
• Managing government resources
English Language Teaching Association of South Africa
• Promoting South Africa as a destination
• Increasing membership
• Increasing visibility with agents, as a guarantee of working with quality centres
• Government lobbying
• Providing members with information, market intellig-
ence and professional development assistance
• Coordination of promotional products and activities
English New Zealand
• Setting and monitoring quality standards
• Identifying key issues and presenting them to the appropriate lobby group for follow up
English South Africa
• Quality assurance
• Joint international marketing of members
• Combining our efforts in assuring the best local offers for our clients
• Develop members'; professionalism
• Protect and promote business and interests of members
Federación Española de Asociciones Escuelas de Español para Extrajaneros
• Government lobbying
• Protecting members'; commercial and professional interests
Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations Malta
• Quality standards
• Lobbying/government consultation
• Professional activities
International Association of Language Centres