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September 2008 issue

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Giant steps

The evolution, direction and future plans of the industry’s major players are of interest to us all, marking out global trends, individual success stories and, with big corporate money entering the industry, signifying the industry’s validity as mainstream money maker. Amy Baker analyses many of the giant corporations out there and finds out about their business paths to date and beyond.

International education remains a burgeoning business sector, embracing language training overseas, education abroad and more recent growth areas, such as working abroad and cultural exchange. Buoyed by cheaper air travel in the last 10 years – and with newly emerging source markets – the outlook for the wider industry is further growth and, possibly, a continued trend towards acquisitions and integration that has occurred in the last 10 years.

Some of the major players in the language teaching industry are hybrid companies representing a merger of two separate larger players keen to maximise economies of scale. Kaplan Aspect is a recent merger of two well known brand names (and Aspect, previously Aspect ILA, had undergone two previous mergers). Embassy CES (operated by Study Group) is also a merged company, having once been the two separate outfits of Embassy Educational Services (owned by British Study Group, now Study Group) and US company, The Center for English Studies (CES).

Most large-scale operators started out by offering English language training, but rapid diversification into other language areas has been a natural progression. A number of large companies – EF, Sprachcaffe, OISE, Eurocentres, for example – actually teach a range of languages worldwide, either via their main brand or subsidiary brands. EF started out in 1965, for example, taking Swedish children to study in England, but was offering French in Nice and German in Koblenz just two years later.

In a previous issue (see LTM, April 2008, page 18), David Jones, Managing Director of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and spokesperson for Kaplan Aspect, told Language Travel Magazine, “Kaplan operates one of the largest Chinese-teaching schools in the world so there is nothing to say that we are wedded to the idea of teaching only English. We’re always exploring strategic opportunities for growth.”

Many companies offer more than one language under the same brand – OISE offers English, French, German or Spanish via OISE schools and also owns another Spanish school while Sprachcaffe Language Plus’s products cover the English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese languages. At EF, Anders Ahlund claims, “EF’s offer is more complete than any other provider... We cover the six biggest languages and we offer these in 50 destinations in 15 countries.” Meanwhile, Switzerland-based Eurocentres offers seven languages in 30 locations.

Focusing only on the Spanish market, one huge company in terms of the global corporates is spearheaded by Antonio Anadon. He has built up Ideal Education Group in the last three years, an umbrella company that owns and runs the Don Quijote and Enforex brands, both of which offer Spanish in Spain and Latin America. As well as teaching Spanish, Anadon’s business interests span a range of associated ventures such as academic placement in Spain, Kaplan test preparation (licensee for Spain) and agency services; Enforex started out as an agency (originally called English for Executives) in Spain in 1989 and this business remains a successful division.

Don Quijote was bought by Anadon in late 2005. Subsequently, the company formed an American division in 2007 and bought Amerispan, one of the largest outbound student agencies operating in the USA. At the time, Amerispan faced bankruptcy unless a vendor could be found and Anadon said that his decision to purchase the company was in part to safeguard the industry against a high-profile collapse. However, no further moves into agency territory are planned, he says. “We don’t need it,” he explains, “and we are very very close to our agent partners around the world.” He elaborates, “I wanted to be in the USA and we needed an operations office for our Latin American business.”

Like many other large operators, Anadon points to the pivotal role that agencies have played in the development of his business. “We now give more support than ever to agencies, and have new strategies in the pipeline to help them,” he says. Matt Bonnici, Head of International Marketing at Sprachcaffe, based in Germany, observes, “Our main sales channel and source of students is still agents worldwide. We remain totally committed to agents and appreciate the time, motivation and in-depth consultation they offer their (and our) clients.”

One defining trend among large-scale operators is the operation of regional offices overseas to support agent partners. Bonnici says, “In order to support agencies around the globe, we have Sprachcaffe representatives in different continents who are geographically closer to those agents further away and in different time zones from our head office.” He continues, “This helps us to ensure that every agency, no matter where in the world, can benefit from Sprachcaffe’s swift and efficient services.”

Sprachcaffe began in 1983 and unlike other big players, its roots were in Italy and Germany. Brothers, Alberto and Marcello Sarno, financed their studies in Germany by offering Italian lessons and these were usually held around a table and often over “a plate of pasta and glass of wine”, relates Bonnici. The popularity of these informal lessons gave birth to a first trip to Calabria in Italy, combined with Italian lessons, and then the first official Sprachcaffe (Sprach is German for talk and Caffe the Italian spelling of café) schools opening in Capo Vaticana, Calabria and Frankfurt, Germany.

Another company that has sales offices that can support agencies is EF, which was originally named Europeiska Ferienskolan [European holiday school] back in 1965. A huge global educator now, its format was similar to Sprachcaffe’s at the outset, marketing language trips overseas to customers and also being responsible for their provision in the host country. EF’s corporate brochure testifies that in the early days, “Swedish English teachers were happy to make additional income as chaperones and instructors. ‘School’ could be anywhere, community centres or church recreation halls… Perhaps the most important aspect of the EF language travel concept was fun.”

EF rapidly expanded and opened offices in numerous locations to promote its language travel concept. Today, the company, which is still fully owned by founder, Bertil Hult, has 100 offices in 50 countries. Ahlund says, “This gives us instant and complete market intelligence that is otherwise impossible to get in our industry. With the strength of these offices we can continuously develop new products and add destinations.”

He also notes that it is EF’s range of offices that helps maintain such a good nationality mix in all EF schools – “most of our schools have more than 50 nationalities”. With 50 schools in 15 countries, EF also works with agencies around the world. Ahlund explains, “EF’s local offices very much work as agent support offices. This gives the agents a service that no one else can offer; marketing material in the local language, prices in local currency, no expensive international bank transfers, strong support through the visa process.”

Study Group also has 18 regional offices that offer “support and information to ensure that business opportunities for our agents are maximised”, according to the company’s website, with a majority in the Asian region. Anadon in Spain is also cognisant of the value of regional support offices. “We opened an office in January in Shanghai,” he relates, “just to support the Asian market”.

Another significant operator is Navitas, which rebranded from its previous name of IBT Education last year. Based in Australia, Navitas operates the ACE and ACL chains of language schools in Australia as well as many other individually-branded institutions in Australia, Canada, the UK, Indonesia, Kenya, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Zambia – which offer variations of language study, university preparation, high school studies and career advancement.

Louise Bowden, Group Brand Manager at Navitas, explains that the company has seven agent support offices that are not direct sales offices but support local agencies: in Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, China (three) and the UK. It also has an ownership stake in three further agencies, one in the UK, one in India and one in China.

Another clear growth direction for big players in the industry has been moving into associated education services; university placement, foundation years and academic pathways. Study Group, for example, has moved towards wider education provision, emphasising the fact with its current slogan, “World class education. Worldwide.”

Sean Hale, MD of Study Group in the USA, affirms, “We are one of the few global organisations that has long-term close working partnerships with top universities in most Anglophone countries. Additionally, we attribute our success to an approach that prepares the student for all-round academic achievement, rather than limiting ourselves to linguistic tutoring.” Study Group started life as British Study Group in the UK in 1994, with its Embassy and Bellerbys College brands, before acquiring operations in Australia and then the USA (see LTM, July/August 1997, page 7), becoming Study Group International and then Study Group.

IBT Education (now Navitas) also began life in 1994 with its first college, Perth Institute of Business and Technology in Australia, offering academic pathway programmes in association with Edith Cowan University, so this has always been a focus of the company. As this pathway programme proved highly successful, Bowden explains, “the concept was expanded within Australia and internationally”. Later, in 2005 and after IBT floated on the Australian Stock Exchange, the company acquired the ACL Group which included Australian College of English (ACE) and the Australian College of Languages (ACL).

A more recent addition to the club of conglomerates and major players is Into University Partnerships, a company that launched in 2006 and specialises in working in the tertiary sector – partnering with universities to provide a public/private sector hybrid model. Into was founded by Andrew Colin, who sold Study Group to the Daily Mail Group in 1999 after building up the business. Study Group has since been sold again, to Champ Private Equity and Petersen Investments in 2006.

Colin brings considerable industry clout to the table; he also has a significant property investment/development business and in fact Into developed Study Group’s new Brighton study centre. Into takes over the student recruitment process for universities keen to team up – helping a partner university build up its brand internationally via Into’s global network of 400 agencies supported by 23 offices globally. Andy Uren, Director of Communications, notes that Into offers partners “major investment in infrastructure, world-class facilities and new initiatives enabling partner universities to retain their financial resources for investment elsewhere in the university”.

The key point of difference between Into and other corporate affiliations with universties is that in this model, the university retains responsibility for all academic programming. So far, Into has partnerships with five universities in the UK, and a plan to have 25 centres in 10 countries by 2012. Uren says, “Given the co-ownership model, where quality assurance controls and responsibility for academic standards are vested in the university, Into partnerships cannot be described as ‘privatisation’.” He adds that a benefit of collaboration is participation in a “global alliance of like-minded” institutions that can share trends and discuss development.

The presence of private companies on campus, nevertheless, marks a clear commercialisation of the tertiary education sector, particularly in the UK. Branching into this domain in 2006, Study Group now owns and operates nine international study centres on campus at various universities in the UK, offering pathway programmes. Navitas also operates 14 international colleges on campus in various countries and Kaplan subsidiary, Kaplan International Colleges, has five on-campus centres in the UK.
Kaplan Inc. is owned by the Washington Post Company in the USA and has many divisions operating in the international education sector. Kaplan Aspect offers a broad range of language training, exam preparation and work & study programmes, as well as a university placement service. Kaplan acquired UK-based company Aspect, and its 19 schools, in 2006, and created Kaplan Aspect, bringing 17 schools of its own to the grouping. David Jones, ex-Chief Executive of Aspect, leads this division as part of the international division of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.
Another operator of some stature is ELS, owned by Berlitz in the USA, and with a clear academic focus. It has close to 50 schools in the USA, most of which are located on university campuses. In addition there are 33 ELS Language Centers overseas and a new ELS-American Education Center opened in Shanghai, China this year, with a focus on entry to higher education in the USA.

John Nicholson at ELS explains that the new Chinese school “serves as a platform for American institutions of higher learning to meet face-to-face with students aspiring to attend universities in the USA, as well as improving their level of English while in their home country”. More ELS-American Education Centers are opening in China, Vietnam and Turkey – developing markets for US higher education. “This is ELS’s commitment to help promote US colleges and universities to international students,” he relates. “It is our private effort to support US higher education the way British Council, and the governments of UK, Canada and Australia promote theirs using public funds.”

The Bell Educational Trust, based in the UK and trading as Bell International, is another sizable operator, with 42 teaching centres in 14 countries around the world, teaching over 100,000 students annually. Bell has many specialisms, including young learners, an international school and teacher training, for example. Unlike many other major players, Bell is an educational charity. Will Kinsman at Bell explains that the company, “has no shareholders and all income is reinvested in developing and improving the services and facilities for students, and the worldwide services that we offer”. It also means that Bell has a programme of charitable and philanthropic work, such as scholarships.

Kinsman details that Bell has a three-year strategic plan for growth, which encompasses opening new language training centres around the world; expanding its share of the “language travel value chain” through developments such as more residential accommodation; building overseas contract business; developing online and virtual language learning services to extend Bells’ reach around the world; and developing the portfolio of products for particular target markets.

He too signals a key development among language travel customers: the use of language acquisition as a stepping stone to further achievement. “Fundamental to [Bell’s] plan is the recognition that the role of English language tuition is changing and that, increasingly, clients are looking for language learning solutions as a gateway or catalyst to facilitate other goals and objectives,” he vouches. “This has, for example, informed our language travel strategy where, rather than simply offer a series of ‘identikit’ schools in different locations, we have created distinct profiles and ‘characters’ for our four adult intensive centres [in the UK].”

Based on information shared with Language Travel Magazine, future business growth, for large operators, is seen as achievable via investment in technology, facilities and strategic product positioning, with career advancement, academic pathways and diverse travel packages integral to development in the future. At Sprachcaffe, for example, Bonnici says, “We are expanding our TravelNWork and TravelNDiscover programmes to further develop the variety of working holiday packages, adventure trips and a plethora of other travel possibilities which can be combined with language learning.”

He adds that two new schools will open in Miami and Sydney and the Mexico school is being relocated to a high-quality new complex (see page 7). Anadon in Spain details the substantial investment he has made into school facilities across the Don Quijote chain, with the three schools in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia fully renovated this year to create “premium” products. With guaranteed small study groups in “extremely spacious schools”, the buildings will offer “state of the art technology, including wi-fi, a sound system throughout the school” and luxurious touches such as marble floors and, in the case of the school in Madrid, a location alongside the Liria Palace and with the student residence on-site.

“We believe more than anyone that quality in services and accommodation are the most important issues,” states Anadon, underlining the significant investment into school facilities made in one year alone. He has also launched a new brand, EduSpain, offering placement into Spanish universities this year.

EC is a rising star with ambition to be among the largest English language operators in the industry. Expanding out of Malta with schools now in the UK, USA and South Africa, EC Group currently teaches 25,000 students annually. Andrew Mangion, Managing Director at EC, points to investment in buildings and facilities, and a strong offer of residential accommodation, as vital in distinguishing EC’s brand from others, as well as a strong ethos of working with agencies.

At Study Group, Hale signifies the importance of new technology to the company’s evolution as well as a tertiary focus and he underlines bold ambition for the future: “Study Group currently has an ambitious growth strategy to expand into new English-speaking destinations in which we have not previously operated,” he says, adding, “We anticipate that our on-campus university partnerships will grow significantly in the next five years… [and] an important aspect of our growth strategy is to invest in new technology that will enhance, not replace, traditional teaching methods.”

At EF, which opened schools in Chicago and Hawaii in the USA this year (see LTM, July 2008, page 6), Ahlund signals further expansion ahead. “We have many new products and destinations to be launched in the coming months,” he says, adding, “Higher education is definitely a segment which we will grow in the coming years.” Ahlund also attributes EF’s use of learning technology to student success rates. “Our Efekta system has proven to be a key factor in the success of the students’ learning curve,” he observes. “We are about to launch the second generation of the fully integrated and blended Efekta learning system.”

The developmental direction of the industry’s major players should be a signal of where the industry is heading for all language school operators and language/education travel agencies, who are clearly integral to the continued success of these giants.

Kaplan Aspect
Date started: 1967
Vital stats: 40 English language schools in 6 countries; 14 regional sales offices; head office in UK. Kaplan also operates Kaplan International Colleges on campus (five to date).
Undisclosed students taught in 2007.
Ownership: The Washington Post Co.

Study Group
Date started: 1994
Vital stats: 35 study centres in five countries; 18 regional sales offices; head office in UK.
40,000 students taught in 2007. Brands include Embassy CES, Bellerbys College, Taylor College, Martin College. Study Group also operates international study centres on campus.
Ownership: Champ Private Equity and Petersen Investments (2006) .

EC Group
Date started: 1991
Vital stats: 7 English language schools in 4 countries; 0 regional offices; head office in Malta.
20,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: The Mangion family (Andrew Mangion, MD, majority shareholder)

Ideal Education Group
Date started: 1989
Vital stats: 19 Spanish language schools in 2 countries under two brands (also partner schools), 9 summer camps; 6 international offices; head office in Spain.
36,500 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Antonio Anadon

OISE Group
Date started: 1973
Vital stats: 30 schools in 7 countries; head office in UK. As well as OISE schools, the group includes many independent brands, Regent Language Training (2004) and Centre Linguista Canada (2006).
Undisclosed students taught in 2007, but est. 20,000+ taught in 2005 (Financial Mail on Sunday)
Ownership: Till Gins (MD) and brother.

Date started: 1948
Vital stats: 30 language schools in 15 countries; 2 regional sales offices; head office in Switzerland.
13,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: A foundation, without ownership but supported and controlled by Mirgos, retail group in Switzerland.

Bell Educational Trust (t/a Bell International)
Date started: 1955
Vital stats: 42 teaching centres in 14 countries (2 native-English; UK and Malta); 2 regional offices serving agencies; head office in the UK.
100,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Bell Educational Trust (charity); no shareholders.

Date started: 1965
Vital stats: 50 language schools in 15 countries; 100 regional sales offices; head office in Switzerland.
Est. 100,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Bertil Hult, Founder.

Date started: 1961
Vital stats: 83 language schools in 14 countries (close to 50 in the USA and with more destinations opening in 2009 in new countries); 0 regional offices; head office in the USA.
Undisclosed students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Berlitz (1997)

Date started: 1973
Vital stats: 36 language schools in 13 native-speaking countries teaching the respective native language (and over 500 English language schools in Japan); regional offices in four continents; head office in Japan.
150,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Geos Corporation

Date started: 1994
Vital stats: 35 schools/colleges in 8 countries; 7 regional marketing offices; head office in Australia. Brands include ACL, Australian College of English (ACE), Hawthorn-Melbourne and 13 international pathway colleges on campus plus 4 managed university campuses.
30,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Navitas (Rod Jones and Peter Larsen, Co-Founders of IBT Education)

Date started: 1983
Vital stats: 22 language schools in 12 countries; 12 regional agent support offices; head office in Germany.
35,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: Alberto and Marcello Sarno

St Giles
Date started: 1955
Vital stats: 8 language schools in 4 countries; 0 regional sales offices; head office in UK.
11,000 students taught in 2007.
Ownership: The Lindsay family (Mark Lindsay, MD)

Cambridge Education Group
Date started: 1952 (Stafford House)
Vital stats: 4 schools/colleges in 1 country, 19 summer centre operations, 3 on-campus partnerships; 4 regional sales offices; head office in UK. Brands include CATS, Stafford House School of English, Stafford House Study Holidays and Foundation Campus. 11,000 EFL students taught in 2007 and 550 academic enrolments.
Ownership: Palamon Capital Partners (2007)

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Britannia Student
Sara's New York

English Australia  
International House
      World Organisation  
Languages Canada /
      Langues Canada  
MEI~Relsa Ireland  
Perth Education
Quality English  

Trinity College

Student Guard

Internet Advantage

Business Telecom

Malta Tourism

English Australia  
      House World
MEI~Relsa Ireland  
Quality English  

Bond University  
Geos Oceania 
      New Zealand) 
Griffith University  
Hawthorn English
      Language Centres  
La Trobe University
Language Studies
      (Australia, Canada,
Pacific Gateway
Perth Education
Sun Pacific College
TAFE NSW English
      Language Centres  
University of
University of
      College Australia  

Cultura Wien  

Ceran Lingua
      (Belgium, France,
      Spain, UK)

Bodwell College  
College of New
East Coast School
      of Languages
Edutour Homestay
      Assocs Ltd  
English Bay
English Language
      Training College
Global Village
      (Australia, Canada,
Hansa Language
ITTTI Vancouver  
Language Studies
National School
      of Languages  
Red Leaf Student
      Program and Tours  
Richmond School
      District #38  
Saint Mary's
Stewart College
      of Languages  

Mandarin House  

      Panamericano de
      Idiomas (CPI)  

Language Explorer

Karlov College  

      House - IH Cairo  

      (UK, USA) 
Bell International
      (Malta, UK)  
Bournville College
      of Further
Camp Beaumont  
      Language Home
      (Argentina, Australia,
      Canada, England,
      France, Germany,
      Greece, Hawaii,
      Ireland, Italy, Malta,
      New Zealand,Russia,
      Scotland, Spain,
      Sweden, USA)  
Hampstead School
      of English  
International House
International House
      World Organisation  
InterNexus Centre
      for Language
IP International
      Projects GmbH
      (England, France,
      Germany, Spain)    
LAL Language and
      (England, Canada,
      Cyprus, Ireland,
      South Africa, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)
Kaplan Aspect 
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta,
      New Zealand,
      South Africa, UK,
Malvern House
      College London  
Oxford Intensive
      School of English 
      (Australia, France,
      Germany, Spain,
      UK, USA)
Prime Education  
Scanbrit School of
St Giles Colleges  
      (Canada, UK, USA)   
Study Group 
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Twin Group
      (Ireland, UK)  
University of Essex -
Wimbledon School
      of English  

Alliance Française
      Paris Ile de France
      (France, Spain, UK)  
Home Language
Silc - Séjours
Université de
      Paris Sorbonne  

Carl Duisberg
      (England, Germany)
Inlingua Berlin  
International House
      Berlin - Prolog  
      International /
      Languages Plus 
      (Australia, Canada,
      France, Germany,
      Italy, Malta, Spain,

Prime Speech Power
      Language School  

Alpha College of
Centre of English
      (Ireland, UK)     
Dublin City
      Language Services  
Grafton College  
ISI - International
      Study Institute
MEI~Relsa Ireland
Portobello School  
Swan Training

      Language School  
EC English
      Language Centre 
      (England, Malta,
      South Africa, USA)
IELS - Institute of
      English Language
Malta Tourism

Unique New
      Zealand Education  

EAC Language
      Centres and Activity
      Camps (England,

Cape Studies  
EC Cape Town  
Eurocentres Cape
Good Hope
Interlink School
      of Languages  
LAL Cape Town  
Shane Global
      Language Centres -
      Cape Town  

Camino Barcelona
      Spanish school  
Esade Executive
Escuela de Espanol
la Brisa S.L.  
Idiomas Sí!  
inlingua Las Palmas
      de Gran Canaria  
International House
      Sevilla - Clic  
Malaca Instituto -
      Club Hispanico SL  
Wired Spain  

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd 
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Ecuador,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, Malta,
      New Zealand,
      Russia, Scotland,
      Spain, USA)
      (Australia, Canada,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New Zealand,
      Russia, Sain,
      Switzerland, USA) 

ALCC - American
      Language &
ELS Language
Global Immersions
University of
      California Riverside  
University of
      California San
University of
      South Florida  
Virginia Polytechnic
      Institute & State
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)