||French language schools confronted a number of problems in 2009, and for many but not all it was a difficult year. For Volodia Maury-Laribière, Sales and Development Coordinator at Silc in Angoulême, the high value of the euro proved an obstacle to business development. Meanwhile, Virginie Courau of Accent Français in Montpellier highlights “money” and “swine flu” as the chief problems of 2009, while complaints continue surrounding the granting of visas.
Jean-François Vouilloux of Ecoles France Langue in Paris and Nice takes a philosophical view, observing, “2009 was definitively a bad one, but 2008 was a very good one”. Chief among the difficulties encountered by his schools last year were visa issues and the effect of currency fluctuation in Korea, which led to a drastic decrease in the number of Korean students.
As a university language centre, ISEFE at the Université de Savoie receives many Chinese students, notes spokesperson, Karine Joly-Patrouillault, and the centre’s student nationality profile changed little from 2008 to 2009. Nevertheless, Joly-Patrouillault notes a fall in the number of Japanese over the past two years, as does Accent Français, where Courau also attests to “a significant decrease” in numbers from Southern European countries, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, which she attributes to the financial crisis.
However, not all schools suffered in this climate. “We had a very good year,” comments Jean-Philippe Perez of Alliance Français in Nice. Its student numbers rose by 20 per cent, he reports, an agreement with Russian universities having led to an increase in the number of Russian enrolments at the school.
Elsewhere, there were also positive tendencies to offset some of the negative trends. At Idiom in Nice, the main clientele is, and has always been, Swiss, who accounted for around 80 per cent of intake, according to Director, Ursula Bird. However, Eastern Europeans are increasing their presence, and, she notes, now represent around 10 per cent of the total.
Aside from effects on nationality profile at France Langue’s Paris school, the challenging climate produced a trend towards shorter stays, last-minute booking and demand for cheap accommodation. “More and more students book for a week and [then] take an extra week when they are already at [the] school, so we have to be more and more flexible,” comments Vouilloux.
Meanwhile, at its Nice school, although student numbers increased last year, stays were shorter, with fewer study hours per week. “[Students] seem to be more careful,” comments Vouilloux. Previously, France Langue offered programmes comprising either 20 or 30 lessons per week. However, following a drop in demand for the 30-lesson course in 2009, Vouilloux reports that it has launched a new 26-lesson per week programme. Late bookings have also been increasingly in evidence over recent years, according to Bird and Maury-Laribière.
While schools are proving flexible in the face of difficult times, the outlook is not entirely clear for 2010. While some remain optimistic, others expect a rough ride. The first three months of 2010 were “very difficult” for Idiom, with a heavy drop in bookings. Since then, says Bird, the pattern has fluctuated, and 2010 is proving a very atypical year. “I simply think that the world financial crisis is still in full power and people are hesitating. The ash cloud has not helped things either,” she comments.
Security in numbers
As highlighted in this month’s Special Report, when times get tough, language school associations can play a more important role than ever in helping schools to help themselves. The French associations are no exception.
Silc in Angoulême, belongs to l’Office. As such, the school is subject to strict quality controls, explains Sales & Development Coordinator, Volodia Maury-Laribière. “Agents have to know about that, because many associations do not respect them. Some of them do not have professional third party liability or good emergency and repatriation insurance,” he says.
Accent Français in Montpellier is affiliated to both Groupement Fle and the Montpellier language schools association, and spokesperson, Virginie Courau, comments, “That kind of association [is] helping language schools to improve their quality, to share experience and information, which is very helpful.”
“But,” she adds, “what makes the difference is the fact that these groupings are very active in promoting our language schools abroad. For example, Groupement Fle is representing our schools in various workshops, and the Montpellier [local association] is doing a great job all around the world to promote our destination.”