Keeping the faith
There are many challenges that face those who work in the international study abroad industry today. Security issues remain at the forefront of immigration departments' policies, as countries around the world amend their visa requirements to ensure only genuine visitors enter their country. This is making it more and more difficult for students from some countries to gain entry to study as well as those intending to settle in foreign coutnries as permanent residents.
In New Zealand, there are new rules concerning skilled migrants applying for residence, while in the UK and USA, enhanced security measures are being introduced, which are said to strengthen the integrity of the visa system. The new measures in the UK will, according to the Home Office, help genuine long-term visitors to be recognised as such, but there is no doubt that a tightening up of visa regulations will affect the ease of entry for international students.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that students and agents favour those countries for which visa entry is relatively straightforward. Malta's language travel industry, for example, is benefiting from its reputation for ease of entry for English language students.
The reception that a student or agent receives at a foreign embassy or consulate can also colour their view about that country, and the help offered or obstacles created when applying for a student visa can be indicative, for agents, of their working relationship with that country as a study destination. As one agent testifies in this month's Industry issues section, their experience with a local embassy does not encourage them to send many clients to that country.
At the core of language and education travel lies the basic tenet of breaking down borders and enhancing international understanding. Although all in the industry acknowledge that national security is of paramount concern, many immigration policies today can seem to go against the basic principles of our industry. It is up to agents and schools to work together to break down these barriers, and a good working relationship between the two parties can only help students to realise their study objectives.
Despite all the challenges that exist to hinder international exchange, there are also many initiatives within the industry that foster good communications among all players. Quality English, for example, is a new group of independent quality English language schools in the UK, which primarily formed for marketing reasons, but it also aims to send out a message of collaborative goodwill to agencies. Another new business venture aiming to put industry players in touch with each other is Qisan, a network of international agents and schools.
There are also many established associations of language schools that promote their values of good practice, goodwill and cooperation to students and agents around the world, and many of these associations continually take steps to improve the quality of the programmes at member schools.
With so many initiatives in place internationally to assert the integrity of language travel, it is a shame if the biggest hurdles to students remain immigration legislation, and, in some cases, the attitude of visa officers in embassies and consulates worldwide.