Being the best
Because of the heated competition for international students, language schools and language school associations throughout the world are constantly trying to think of ways to make their language learning products and destination more attractive and accessible to the international market.
In this issue, Tony Millns from the Association of Recognised English Language Services (Arels) in the UK talks about an agreement established between the UK and Chinese governments regarding doing business in China - Arels has ensured that only accredited English language schools are covered by the agreement. And we also learn of the continuing progress of plans for English UK - a giant cross-sector association that, once established, will represent a significant number of both state and private language providers in the country.
In Canada too, there has been a similar development, as members of the Private English Language Schools Association (Pelsa) have now joined the Council of Second Language Programs in Canada (CSLPC) to form Canada's first cross-sector association. In both countries, member schools hope that their actions will form a strong united body to enable them to act as the voice of their national industries and provide a united quality association that can serve as a reference point for students.
Language school associations are ultimately there to protect the student, and many have regulations in place so that if one member is no longer able to operate, other members step in and teach any stranded students. It is up to agents to be well informed about how a school's membership of a certain association may protect their clients. The closure of a school in the UK that was not a member of an association left many students out of pocket as all lessons were cancelled and host families unpaid.
In the USA, the successful lobbying undertaken by some industry associations over a new visa regulation is further evidence of the usefulness of such organisations. Four US higher education associations lobbied the government about a new rule that stipulated that the majority of visa applicants had to undergo a face-to-face interview with a visa officer. This had a serious effect on the time it took to process visa applications. Since receiving the letter stating these concerns, the US Department of State has advised that all foreign students, professors and researchers be prioritised in the queue for visa interviews.
There are other problems in the US market too, as schools point to the war in Iraq, fears about terrorism in the USA and the high value of the US dollar contributing to a significant downturn in students last year. And judging by a survey undertaken earlier this year by members of the Association of American Intensive English Programs (AAIEP), the final enrolment numbers for the summer 2003 season will also be disappointing.
While global unrest, visa issues and economic factors can make students change their choice of destination, agents can at least take solace in the fact that students may remain loyal to an agency if it maintains its profile and good quality reputation in the marketplace. In order to do this, agencies use a range of promotional techniques. They also keep up to date with new programmes and make sure that their knowledge about their partner schools is impeccable. As one agent says, when explaining why fam trips are so important, 'Students who come to agents are entitled to expect that the agent thoroughly knows the product.'