||UK tightens rules at FE colleges
The UK Home Office has announced a series of measures to restrict numbers of non-EU students at publicly funded FE colleges, including the removal of work rights and progression routes, drawing criticism from the education industry.
Under the new rules, presented to the House of Commons in a written statement by Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, non-EU students will no longer be able to work part-time during studies from August. Previously, 10 hours per week were permitted.
Non-EU students at FE colleges will be prevented from extending their studies in the UK unless they are at a registered institution with a formal link to a university. Brokenshire confirmed that students at “embedded colleges”, such as International Study Centres, on pathway courses into higher education are not affected. Also, the validity of Tier 4 visas for further education study will also be reduced from the current lengths of three years to two years.
The reforms will also prevent non-EU students from applying for a work visa after study at FE college level unless they leave the country first. The changes are due to be implemented in the autumn.
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to StudyTravel Magazine that non-EU students at universities are not affected by the new immigration regulations.
Brokenshire said the rules were being introduced because of increased evidence of fraud in the publicly funded FE college sector, including immigration advisers offering college visas as a means to work in the UK.
However, Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), which represents publicly funded FE institutions, staunchly defended the sector and called for urgent reconsideration.
“International students make an important financial and educational contribution to the country and colleges take their work as sponsors of non-EU students very seriously,” said Doel. “Publically funded, Ofsted-inspected further education colleges provide high-quality courses for all students, not least international students. Colleges have well-established and stringent attendance systems in place to mitigate against any potential abuse and the sector is keen to see any evidence that it is being used as a ‘back door for bogus students’.”
“Preventing international FE students continuing to study in the UK after they have finished their studies will limit the progression of students from colleges to universities. The government risks seriously restricting the UK’s ability to attract international students. A-levels and International Foundation Year courses represent legitimate study routes for international students with many going on to successfully complete degrees at top-ranking universities,” Doel added.
Huan Japes, Deputy Chief Executive (Professional Services) of language school association English UK, lamented the lack of industry involvement in the drafting of policy. “We are concerned that the lack of consultation means that the full implications for our education sector may not have been fully considered, particularly when taken as part of an almost constant stream of changes to the immigration rules during the past year and the lack of time to implement those which have already happened.”
Graham Able, Chair of Exporting Education UK (ExEd), which represents institutions across the international education industry, said, “The UK education sector is complex, interconnected and sensitive to change. Due to the failure of the Home Office to consult with those who understand it best, these proposals are ill conceived and have not been fully thought through.”
Australia proposes reforms to ESOS Act
Australia’s Minister for Education and Training, Christopher Pyne, has released a draft of amendments to the country’s Education Services for Overseas Student (ESOS) Act, aiming to reduce red tape and increase competitiveness in international recruitment.
The government proposes to reduce the reporting burden on institutions, avoid the duplications of work and remove the requirement for non-exempt providers to maintain a separate, designated account to hold advance payments.
One of the most significant changes for study travel agents in the updated Tuition Protection Service (TPS) measures will be the removal of the restriction on students or third parties paying more than 50 per cent of tuition fees up front. Under the new rules, students or agents will be allowed to request to pay more.
Other amendments to the TPS include the removal of the definition of study periods. In an explanatory overview document, the Department of Education and Training said the previous stipulation of 24 weeks as the maximum for a study period was not consistent with providers’ business operations. Further measures to support providers include the removal of the requirement to report student defaults and an extension of the reporting period for changes to a student’s study from 14 to 31 days.
Other planned changes include the removal of the minimum two-year registration period and allowing for a maximum registration of seven years, with regulatory bodies TEQSA and ASQA given powers to determine the most appropriate period of registration for a provider.
Minister Pyne said that changes would be conducted in consultation with the sector. “That’s why we are releasing the bills and seeking further advice from stakeholders. We are determined to get the policy settings right.”
Sue Blundell, Executive Director of peak body English Australia, welcomed the amendments to the act. “We are pleased to see the government taking action to remove some of the meaningless ‘make work’ requirements that came out of the last ESOS review and to streamline the regulatory oversight of the sector. Overall, these bills will result in a number of positive changes that our member colleges will welcome.
“The removal of the designated account requirement, allowing students to pay more than 50 per cent up front if they wish and streamlining reporting requirements are all important reforms that will reduce the administrative burden for colleges and make Australia easier for agents to work with. We would have liked to see the removal of the 50 per cent limit altogether, however we believe that the steps proposed are at least a move in the right direction.”
The changes follow the recent release of a draft international education strategy.
English Australia plans world record lesson
Language school association English Australia has announced plans for a world record attempt at the biggest ever English lesson.
The association will be trying to enter the Guinness Book of Records with an outdoor, four-hour live lesson delivered simultaneously to 3,000 international students at Bondi Beach in New South Wales (NSW).
In a member newsletter announcing the Biggest English Lesson in the World event, English Australia (EA) said, “Specialist event managers are designing a unique event to ensure we create hype and attract huge media coverage for English Australia, our member colleges and Australia as a destination.”
EA assured member schools that the event would benefit all members, including those outside of NSW, and said the biggest English lesson could become a permanent fixture on the EA calendar.
Gaela stands behind South Africa’s ELT industry
The Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations (Gaela) has issued a communiqué in support of South Africa’s ELT industry, urging more effective communication between government and sector stakeholders in light of the damage being caused by recently introduced visa measures.
“Gaela supports the call from Education South Africa (EduSA) [the peak organisation representing English language schools and a member of Gaela] for the South African Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Higher Education to sit down with them and develop a coherent approach to ensuring the sector is globally competitive in being able to attract international students for language learning,” said the alliance.
Changes to immigration rules implemented during 2014 have led to confusion around the status of ELT study, with some South African embassies considering that English language study is not appropriate for a study visa.
In an interview with StudyTravel Magazine, Johannes Kraus, Chair of EduSA, said that the impact of the visa situation was becoming apparent in enrolment data this year. In 2015 Q1, EduSA members recorded a 24 per cent decline in the number of students, compared with the same period last year.
In the communiqué, Gaela referred to common misunderstandings of the language travel sector by government bodies.
“Gaela is a strong advocate for the importance and value of study abroad for the purposes of language learning and cultural understanding. The language teaching sector of education is frequently neglected in the development of quality assurance and visa policy because language schools do not teach domestic students and do not issue formal qualifications. This does not mean that the sector is any less important or credible than the traditional sectors of school education, vocational education or higher education.”
In StudyTravel Magazine’s most recent Global Market Report article on the ELT industry, South Africa had a 1.2 per cent share of students in 2013 and one per cent share of student weeks, generating estimated revenue of US$70.2 million (see STM, December 2014, page 26)
“Gaela is also a strong advocate for visa regimes that are effective in ensuring border integrity, however would argue that current South African visa policy is unnecessarily damaging a valuable sector,” said the alliance.
IH Dublin moves to larger premises
International House (IH) Dublin, Ireland, is moving to a new five-story school this month, having outgrown the current location on Dawson Street.
The new centre, located at the Steelworks on Foley Street in the city’s financial district and near the main shopping area of Henry Street and O’Connell Street, features 40 classrooms and a floor-to-ceiling window atrium overlooking the private landscaped development and providing views across the city.
Other facilities in the centre, purpose built by IH Dublin, include a rooftop restaurant and outdoor terrace, a large library, computer facilities and student relaxation rooms throughout.
Padraig Hourigan, Chief Executive of IH Dublin, said, “We are delighted to announce our move to a larger modern campus in the heart of Dublin city. As we approach our twentieth anniversary celebrations, this is an important moment in the growth of our school and a significant step in expanding our offering to all our students and partners. Enhancing the student experience is at the heart of everything we do at IH Dublin and this move is hugely important in adding to that objective.”
ALTO proposes industry standards for course listings
The Association of Language Travel Organisation (ALTO) has proposed a set of standards for language travel bookings, designed to reduce time and resources for agents and schools and ease communication.
Led by Thiago España, ALTO board member and Director of Brazilian agency World Study, the standards cover the presentation of price listings, commissions, accommodation and discounting.
In an interview with StudyTravel Magazine, España said agency members of ALTO were surveyed and 95 per cent agreed updating data takes too much time and energy, 63 per cent said extra staff were needed for this, and every agent said they would support the project.
“It is crazy that we are a multibillion dollar industry that doesn’t have any standardisation. In the hotel industry, it doesn’t matter if it is a six-star hotel or a hostel, they present information to travel agents in the same way.”
The proposed standards include the formatting of programmes as: category + language, shift (morning/afternoon) and hours per week. He said research showed this was most efficient method for agents and visa processing.
Commission should be listed as a percentage, so that agents don’t need to edit when prices change. In other aspects of pricing, the ALTO standards suggest pricelists clearly state date range; that progressive price structures follow a format such as 1-4 weeks, 5-12, 13-23 and 24+; and that discounts be sent with the percentage to be applied on the value of the rate. On the discount point, España said, “It is the most agile way to be registered in the agency systems. Sending new values or giving an extra week is the same as registering a new pricelist.”
The recommended accommodation listing is: type, bedroom type, meal plan, bathroom type. Other standards cover clarity over extra nights, double rooms and supplements.
There are also preliminary plans for the creation of an Application Programming Interface (API) to synchronise systems between both sides of the industry. España said it would reduce costs, allow school updates to automatically update agents’ systems, and facilitate dynamic pricing reflecting demand. “If we have API, it would take one minute on each side to update information.” He added this would benefit schools given the amount of time taken to input information for different programmes and locations.
España was keen to emphasise that he is seeking standardisation in information presentation, not of products offered. “We don’t want to commoditise because if all schools are the same, agents are dead. We do what we do because schools are different. Commoditisation will hurt the industry. The idea is to standardise the way we organise things.”
Looking beyond the initial proposed standards, España said the system could eventually incorporate application and accommodation forms, which would similarly reduce time and bureaucracy for educators.
The ALTO proposals are a starting point, said España. “The idea was to begin a discussion. We have to make a lot of effort to adapt; we are in the language travel industry, but we don’t have our own language.” He said that ALTO was consulting members, government bodies and associations to ensure they are driving a project that meets industry needs.
España said feedback from agents and agent associations had been overwhelmingly positive. He said schools have been slightly more cautious, but become supportive when they realise that commoditisation is not the aim.
Loyalist Group secures funding after share drop, PGIC strike over
The Loyalist Group, a Canada-based investor in international education, has announced a forbearance agreement with its senior lender and the raising of additional funds, following a stock price drop.
Loyalist operates a portfolio of four languages schools, four career colleges, a high school and student accommodation, and has acquired two Korean agencies in the last year.
The share price fell from CAN$0.57 on April 23 to CAN$0.07 at the time of writing, following the announcement of a CAN$19.5 million loss in 2014 and a 43 per cent decrease in adjusted EBITDA to CAN$2.1 million.
In a statement in June, Loyalist Group said it had executed a forbearance agreement with the Bank of Montreal that provided for a repayment date of September 30 for its acquisition credit facility, subject to the company raising a minimum of CAN$2.8 million of cash from new and existing lenders by July 10. The company owed CAN$8.9 million under the facility. Under a non-brokered financing agreement, Loyalist said it had already raised CAN$3.1 million as of July 10 as part of a CAN$8 million share issuance.
David McAdam at Loyalist Group told StudyTravel Magazine commission payments had been affected, but that the company had addressed the issue. “In the latter part of 2014 and again during parts of the first half of 2015, Loyalist was faced with a situation where the timing of cash inflows did not align with the required and projected cash outflows and the company was forced to work with its suppliers (including agents) to extend the payment terms. This was further compounded by a number of instances where agencies and Loyalist staff have not been able to resolve these reconciliations, causing the period over which payments have been outstanding to be longer than normal.”
McAdam said the share issuance would secure sufficient capital to restore financial credibility, while senior management changes have been made, and “initial focus will be on cost management to ensure that Loyalist rebuilds its reputation with all its vendors (including agents). These will not be quick fixes, but rather, building processes that will have positive long-term implications on both the cost and revenue side”.
Meanwhile, teachers at PGIC Vancouver, one of the group’s brands, staged a walkout over contract conditions. Teacher Dianne Simmons told StudyTravel Magazine that under current conditions teacher salaries were capped at CAN$35,000 and it would take 15 years for a new teacher to reach that level.
“When Loyalist Group took over PGIC four years ago, they reduced wages by 30 per cent. They said within a year we’d get back 15 per cent, but it never came back,” claimed Simmons, who established a union as part of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC. The two parties have since resolved differences with the assistance of a mediator.
“The company worked throughout the strike to provide alternate solutions to the students within the limitations of British Columbia labour regulations,” said McAdam. “PGIC worked with its students and their agents to finalise arrangements for compensating the students for the time lost due to the labour interruption. We felt we had an obligation to provide fair, reasonable and timely compensation to our students that meets, and potentially exceeded, the requirements of our published policies and the standards set by the regulators who oversee our industry,” he added. CAN$1 = US$0.78
Languages Canada steady in 2014
The number of international students enrolled at Languages Canada (LC) schools grew by around six per cent to 137,416 in 2014, which with an increase in member programmes equated to a same-level performance, according to a report released by the association.
In the report, based on the results of a survey completed by all 225 member schools, LC said the sector generated a minimum of CAN$1.48 billion (US$1.19 billion) in export revenues for the Canadian economy.
The association said the increase of around 8,000 students in the 2014 survey was in part due to a membership increase there were an additional 13 schools at the time of the latest survey. Nonetheless, last year represented a stabilisation after a 10 per cent decline in 2013.
Brazil overtook Japan in 2014 to become the largest source country for the first time, accounting for 20,128 students a 14 per cent increase compared with the previous year. Japan grew by over 11 per cent to 20,081 students, and the top five was completed by China (17,865), Korea (15,571) and Saudi Arabia (10,497).
However, the association said the impact of federal visa regulations implemented in 2014, uncertainty in regulatory outcomes in British Columbia (BC) and Quebec, and compliance costs in Ontario were continuing to challenge the sector and restrict further growth.
“This year’s report shows how growth and innovation are directly impacted by policy, or the absence of policy, causing uncertainty in the market. If Canada had continued without change in government policy in 2012, we should have welcomed close to 160,000 international language students in the country in 2014, based on global growth rates, not the 137,416 reported in this survey,” said Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada.
The 2014 total was below the figure of approximately 143,000 recorded by the association’s members in 2012.
The use of agents to recruit international students was twice as common at private sector members of Languages Canada; 67 per cent was the average ratio of agent-sourced students among private sector centres in 2014, compared with 32 per cent in the public sector. Both figures were consistent with the 2013 survey.
Fedele and SEA collaborate
Spain’s language school federation Fedele and the SEA association of Argentina have signed a framework agreement to promote Spanish language teaching.
The agreement, signed in a special ceremony in Madrid, Spain, will lead to collaborative projects in teacher training, quality accreditation, certification, language exams and key industry information sharing.
In a statement, Fedele and SEA said both associations had been working on standards for 20 years and were now collabroating to improve the performance of the industry.” Ana Cózar, Director of Fedele, told StudyTravel Magazine, there was potential for growth for the whole Spanish as a foreign language (SFL) industry. “The importance of the Spanish language comes from the fact that Spanish is the official language in 21 countries around the world,” said Cózar.
“The better development of SFL, better quality and certification, specific training, and the information sharing in all destinations will create a solid industry that will benefit students, agents and schools. Of course, we are competitors in the SFL sector, but we are partners in the overall language travel industry,” she continued.
CEG announces Intrax acquisition and Swedish pathway
UK-headquartered international provider Cambridge Education Group (CEG) has announced an agreement with Intrax Inc to acquire the Intrax English Programs portfolio of US schools in San Francisco, Chicago and San Diego, as well as a pathway partnership with Lund University, Sweden,
The transaction, which is expected to complete by the end of the year, will eventually see the Intrax schools incorporated within CEG’s Stafford House School of English brand. CEG currently operates four UK schools and one US centre, which was acquired in 2013.
In a company statement, CEG said the purchase represents an active part of the group’s strategy to develop in the US market. In the interim period, all business and operations at both brands will remain as usual.
John Wilhem, Chairman of Intrax Inc , said, “We feel that CEG is a strong strategic partner capable of building a network of language schools throughout the USA, and they are in an excellent position to expand their network of schools Furthermore, this sale will allow Intrax to continue to expand its J-1 programmes and its US-focused intern and job placement programmes.”
Stephan Roussounis, Managing Director of Stafford House School of English, said, “We are very excited to bring these three fantastic schools under the umbrella of Stafford House and Cambridge Education Group. For 2016, we will be offering four top US destinations across the USA, and a strong head office team based in San Francisco.”
Meanwhile, a Pre-Master’s Preparation Programme for international students in partnership with Lund University, due to enrol its first students in September 2016, will provide English language tuition alongside study skills and research methods.
Fergus Brownlee, Chief Executive of Cambridge Education Group, said, “Oncampus Lund Sweden offers an exceptional opportunity for international students to improve their English and develop the academic skills required to be successful at Lund University, a top 100 world ranking institution. Our new partnership with Lund University shows our continued commitment to developing relationships with highly respected universities in attractive destinations.”
Eva Wilberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the institution, said, “Lund University offers a welcoming and dynamic meeting place for international students and researchers from around the world. Our partnership with Oncampus will further strengthen our position as Sweden’s most international university and allow us to widen participation for academically talented students from across the globe.”
Turkish agents report early 2015 growth
Members of Turkish agency association UED have reported a 19 per cent increase in student numbers in the first six months of 2015 compared to the same period last year, according to a recent survey.
In a special mid-year poll, UED asked agents to report the number of bookings for the first half of the year, and found that its 43 members reported individual growth rates of between five and 50 per cent.
“In our opinion, the main reason for this increase is lying in the previous year’s economic conditions,” said UED Coordinator, Gokhan Islamoglu, in a statement given to StudyTravel Magazine. “The beginning of 2014 was really bad for most of the agencies because of the reflections of political tension in the country on the exchange rates.”
He continued, “Turkey’s economic growth in the first quarter of 2015 (a 2.3 per cent increase) and citizens’ positive expectations about the general election, which was held in early June this year, were the other reasons of this increase.”
In an interview with StudyTravel Magazine earlier this year, President of UED, Eren Göker, said business decreased by around eight per cent in 2014. UED’s annual member data for last year, unveiled at the Alphe Istanbul conference in April, showed the UK increasing market share in language and higher education.
English New Zealand announces new chair
Language school association English New Zealand (ENZ) has announced Ewen Mackenzie-Bowie, as its new chair, replacing Darren Conway.
Mackenzie-Bowie is Owner-Director of two ENZ member schools: Auckland English Academy and New Horizon College. He has previously taught English in Egypt, Scotland and Spain and has run language schools in England.
Mackenzie-Bowie said the market environment for language schools in New Zealand was looking healthier than it had done for several years. “I believe the challenges facing ENZ in the coming year will be less from the market place than from our own government quality assurance authority. I believe New Zealand Qualifications Authority has insufficient understanding of language travel and what our membership has been doing for the last thirty years, and doing well,” he said.
A new ENZ executive committee has also been confirmed as: Tim Brown, Campbell Institute; Kim Harase, Academic Colleges Group; Maureen Hayes, Worldwide School of English; and Giuliana Silveira, Kaplan International Auckland.
English USA unveils new Executive Director
EnglishUSA, the American Association of Intensive English Programs, has announced Cheryl Delk-Le Good as its new Executive Director.
Delk-Le Good joins after a long tenure as Director of Intensive English Programs (IEPs)with Georgia State University.
In recent years, she has served as a commissioner for the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA) and as IEP Network Leader for the International Enrollment Management Knowledge Community for NAFSA. She has also served on the boards of EnglishUSA and University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP).
Delk-Le Good said, “I have been inspired by the mission, vision and work of EnglishUSA since the beginning of my career in programme administration and look forward to engaging the membership in new ways and collaborating effectively with current and future boards to represent the organisation and provide continued and improved support for IEPs across the country.”
President of the association, Caroline O’Neal, said, “EnglishUSA has seen fantastic growth in members and services over the past several years, and we are now positioned to expand the association’s activities. Cheryl is the ideal person to help drive our vision to be the recognised voice of intensive English programmes in the USA.” .