||As the language travel industry has grown, so too has the influence of the associations that represent language schools and other organisations involved in international education. In many countries these associations have played a key role in raising the quality of the industry and promoting their destination overseas.
“Language school associations are a positive development for the [language teaching] industry as a whole,” confirms Isabelle Pace Warrington, Executive Director of Feltom in Malta. “On a national level, membership of such an organisation assures agents and students that accredited schools can guarantee a quality service. In addition, schools can work together to create the right infrastructure which is necessary to make Malta a competitive EFL destination.”
Tony Millns of English UK, which represents state and private language providers in the UK, agrees that associations are instrumental in increasing quality standards. “Associations have a major role to play in raising standards,” he asserts, “through such means as running accreditation schemes and providing professional development and training courses for staff of member centres, and also acting as trade associations, promoting their country and their members and lobbying the government to advance their members’ interests.”
Standing for quality
While associations come in all shapes and sizes representing different sectors of the market or schools in different countries or world regions the ultimate aim for most industry associations is to create one clear voice that represents their members and helps them to stand out from the crowd. Associations generally conduct marketing and promotions activities; professional training and business development; and quality assurance measures. And it is this latter role that has gained in stature in recent years.
Founded in 1967, University and Colleges Intensive English Programs (UCIEP) in the USA formed to “promote excellence in intensive English programme administration, curriculum and instruction”. This was achieved through guidelines encouraging professional development and advocating on behalf of members, and its role is as relevant today. “UCIEP maintains high standards,” asserts UCIEP President Michelle Alvarez. “[and] in 2007, UCIEP updated the UCIEP guidelines.” All members must adhere to these guidelines and the UCIEP governing rules, and undergo a self-study quality inspection every five years.
While quality remains at the centre of the established associations, it is also the main reason behind the creation of many new groups. In South Africa, Eltasa was established in 2003 “to monitor quality and to show the worldwide ELT industry that South Africa is a serious English language learning destination”, asserts Eltasa Chairperson, Gavin Eyre. In a country whose English language teaching industry is still in its infancy, the association’s main role is to “develop and guide the growth of the ELT industry in South Africa”, says Eyre.
Quality is certainly a high priority for most associations particularly important in an industry that is largely unregulated, although this is slowly changing (see LTM May 2008, pages 28-34 for our article about accreditation). In the UK, for example, English UK, in partnership with the British Council, runs the Accreditation UK scheme, through which all its members must be accredited, and the government has been working with English UK to link accreditation to visa issuance (see below).
Meanwhile, Souffle in France was, according to Souffle’s President, François Pfeiffer, the first Français comme Langue Étrangère (FLE) organisation to set up a quality charter and inspect prospective members. Now that the French government has backed the introduction of the Label Qualite FLE scheme, Souffle has adopted this as an alternative entry requirement for new members.
Among international organisations, quality again is at the forefront of their remit. Quality English, the European Association for Quality Language Services (Eaquals) and the International Association of Language Centres (Ialc) have as their main role the assurance and enhancement of the quality provisions of their members, although Ialc also invests heavily in marketing.
Moving with the times
A successful association also adapts to a changing marketplace. As Sue Blunsdell at English Australia (EA) says, “Change is constant and a successful organisation needs to be responsive to the changes in the external environment.” At English Australia this is achieved through “regular strategic reviews of industry needs and how EA is going to support the industry in Australia”.
English UK has recently shown its ability to adapt to market needs by reducing its subscription costs in a bid to target smaller language centres enrolling less than 500 student weeks a year. “This highlights our ongoing commitment to provide a high level of service affordable to all English teaching centres irrespective of size,” states Millns.
For some time there has been a trend towards consolidation of associations representing different sectors within the industry, and the latest to join these is Languages Canada. It has emerged as a hybrid of two associations, the Canada Language Council (CLC) and the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools (Capls), to become “the voice of the Canadian language training sector”, says its President, Calum MacKechnie.
Meanwhile, Eaquals has now “further professionalised its infrastructure” according to Richard Rossner, by opening a secretariat in Hungary. Professional development is high on the list for Eaquals, and last year it launched eight special interest projects and held a workshop in Budapest at which groups of members worked on these issues.
In the USA, May Arthur, President Elect of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP), says that the association works very closely with UCIEP on advocacy issues and links between the two associations look likely to become closer in the future. “AAIEP hopes to further strengthen ties with UCIEP by hosting a fall Advocacy Day and a Professional Development workshop that will be open to both memberships,” she says.
The Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto), which is the language travel organisation operated under the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation (WyseTC) umbrella, repositioned itself last year in response to the changing needs of its membership, according to Alto’s Manager, Stephanie Manning. “A lot of strategic focus is now on providing our members with premium trading, innovative market intelligence and professional development opportunities that help all of our members continually grow their businesses,” she reports.
It is also trying to affect change to the industry on a global level. Last year WyseTC signed an official partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to promote and further develop the youth and student travel market around the world. As part of this partnership, WyseTC and the UNWTO published a compendium of youth travel research, entitled Youth Travel Matters, in May 2008, featuring Alto’s Global Directions report, which was compiled by surveying a sample of 38 Alto members (28 schools and 10 agencies). “This report will be used to encourage governments to actively support youth tourism products and services, including international education and language travel,” says Manning.
In South Africa, Eltasa is also working with a new association called the South African Youth Travel Confederation (SAYTC), which is based on the WyseTC model. It was formed to jointly market South Africa’s various youth travel product areas, such as education, volunteer work and backpacking. “Eltasa has been the voice of EduSA [the education sector of SAYTC], and in the coming months will be integrated into EduSA, which will incorporate language centres, schools, universities, colleges, further education training and education institutions,” reports Eyre.
Working together is certainly the way forward for the future.
Working with the government
As the industry has grown and school associations have become more established, their role in lobbying and advising the government on industry issues has become more pronounced, particularly with the move in various countries towards compulsory institutional accreditation linked to visa issuance.
In the UK, English UK is, according to Tony Millns, Chief Executive, the “representative group of the English language sector and a member of all the key government committees relating to international education”. It has also been instrumental in advising the government on accreditation issues and is one of three designated bodies considered able to accredit schools wishing to issue visas to non-EU nationals. The new accreditation-linked visa system comes into force in spring 2009 in the UK.
“Since about 2001, we have been calling for a mandatory system of accreditation to get rid of the poor quality teaching centres which damage the UK’s reputation internationally,” relates Millns. In 2004 the government announced plans to introduce such a system and since then, English UK has been working closely with government agencies to develop it. “When this [new points-based immigration system] happens early in 2009,” says Millns, “it will be the biggest change in the UK English Language Teaching sector since it began.”
Another well-established association that enjoys close relations with the government is English Australia (EA). Sue Blundell at EA describes their collaboration with the government as “excellent”. She says, “We have achieved a lot, with a high level of engagement and a focus on the consolidation of various quality regimes that ensure students have a positive experience.”
In New Zealand, Education New Zealand (EdNZ), which represents the international education sector as a whole, also works closely with the government. “Our relationship with government is very strong,” asserts Stuart Boag at EdNZ. “Advocacy is an ongoing role and we will always strive on behalf of industry for the best possible policy, business and competitive environment.” At sector-specific English New Zealand, Rob McKay adds that this association has also achieved “a new level of communication with government policy advisors and politicians; and positive cross-sector engagement”.
Feltom in Malta has achieved a considerable amount through its close contact with government. In 1996, Malta became the first country to have its English language teaching industry regulated by the state. Feltom’s Isabelle Pace Warrington explains: “Feltom has always been at the forefront of establishing standards in the industry and the Federation played a pivotal role in the drafting of the [legislation] which regulates the EFL industry; Feltom’s academic code of conduct was incorporated into national legislation.”
Today, Feltom’s relationship with the government is, according to Pace Warrington, stronger than ever. “When issues affecting the industry arise, Feltom is usually invited to participate in discussions,” she says. Feltom has a representative on the government’s EFL Monitoring Board and on the Malta Tourism Authority board. “On an international level,” continues Pace Warrington, “cooperation among associations to gain recognition for the language travel industry and to raise standards will ultimately benefit [educators] and students across the globe.”
In Italy, both Asils and Italian in Italy have been working together with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education to address visa issuance problems for incoming students. “In Italy the visa regime has not changed much in the last few years,” explains Giuseppina Foti at Italian in Italy. “Italian Embassies abroad still ask [potential language] students requiring a visa to have at least a certified A2/B1 Italian language competence in order to issue the visa [for Italian language studies]. Italian in Italy, in joint cooperation with Asils, during the last two years has started a fruitful debate with government representatives to solve this problem and to convince the government to recognise a type of visa to study Italian in Italy.”
Focus on agents
Although direct-to-student promotions are conducted by some schools’ associations, many focus their marketing efforts towards agents. Indeed, the International Association of Language Centres (Ialc) primarily promotes its members to agents worldwide. “We fulfil this role by ensuring the standards of member schools through a quality assurance scheme and marketing activities such as our annual agent workshop,” explains Ialc’s Jan Capper.
She continues, “Our major achievement is the level of agent recognition we have today. It has taken hard work to create a quality scheme for such a wide range of schools in different situations and environments and to build an attractive network.” Capper points out that Ialc members benefit from these efforts “because an increasing number of agents see Ialc membership as an automatic guarantee of a school’s quality and good practice”.
Ialc recently launched an Ialc Partner programme, allowing Ialc partner agencies to receive a special logo and a link to their websitefrom the Ialc website, as well as other benefits. To be eligible for this they must, according to Capper, “show a degree of loyalty to Ialc schools, be nominated by a minimum number of Ialc schools and attend at least one Ialc workshop”. Meanwhile, English UK has also stepped up its agent-focused activities in recent years. As well as holding its annual trade fair, StudyWorld, over the last couple of years English UK, together with the British Council, UK Trade & Investment and VisitBritain, has also arranged agent workshops overseas, and more of these are planned for the future.
English UK has also been pivotal in ensuring there is a campaign to educate agents about the new points-based visa system, working with the British Embassy and other agencies in holding briefing sessions. “We are seen to have brought the UK government out to explain the new system face-to-face with agents [and that is] particularly powerful,” notes Millns.
In Spain, the Federation of Regional Spanish Language Schools Associations, Fedele, works together with Turespaña and the Instituto Cervantes on joint promotions including an annual agent workshop, which, according to Astrid Verlot, Fedele’s Executive Secretary, has been very important. “It helps to promote the schools and our sector and to guarantee our quality,” she relates.
Although English Australia (EA) no longer organises an agent workshop itself, it does support agents in other ways, for example, by providing links from EA’s website to agent associations’ websites, and providing data on industry trends in Australia. In the future, says EA’s Sue Blundell, “We will be developing more strategic communication strategies to ensure that agents are kept up-to-date with developments in Australia that they should be aware of.”
For the younger associations, such as Languages Canada, the necessity to get their message across to agents, schools and students is paramount. “As a new association, marketing and communications is a top priority,“ confirms President, Calum MacKechnie. “Our goal is to have the Languages Canada logo internationally recognised as a symbol synonymous with Canadian excellence in language training.”
Eltasa in South Africa, in its marketing activities, has so far targeted South America, South Korea and Turkey and according to Gavin Eyre, its members are already reaping the rewards. “[It has been] very good for our members and we have seen an increased number of students from these markets,” he says.