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September 2003 issue

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One association for Canada?

Two language schools' associations in Canada are to unite and become one representative association working for all sectors in the industry. The Council of Second Language Programs in Canada (CSLPC), which represents language teaching programmes at colleges and universities, had been in discussion with other groups regarding its plans for one cross-sector group (see Language Travel Magazine, July 2003, page 5). Now, it has been announced that the Private English Language Schools Association (Pelsa) has joined CSLPC.

Craig Stusiak, Liaison Officer at CSLPC and President of Pelsa, told Language Travel Magazine, 'Pelsa will still exist as an independent association, but the membership will work hard as Council members to build a strong cross-sector body.' He added that in the future, CSLPC would consider 'a rebranding to reflect the needs of the membership' and ensure Canadian English and French programmes represented are clearly defined and recognised internationally.'

Other privately-run English language schools in Canada are also being invited to join the new super-association. However Jay Jamieson, Executive Director of CSLPC, said that progress was tempered by the association's strict adherence to quality standards. 'We are proceeding cautiously as quality assurance and standards are critical,' he said. It was the two-year process of overhauling CSLPC's own standards that led to the association's initial decision to offer membership to other schools and associations in Canada.

'We feel that one strong voice is more likely to be heard by all stakeholders - government agencies, international organisations and students,' said Jamieson. 'Canada's image will be improved internationally with a common voice [promoting] the benefits of the high quality programmes in Canada, with less of a perception of [the industry] being fragmented.'

Canada is the second country this year to see organic growth among national associations to spawn cross-sector associations representing a substantial number of quality providers in a country. Earlier this year, Arels and Baselt in the UK announced their intentions to join forces and form English UK (see page 33).

Overseas students to be first in line for US visas

Following pressure from the international education community, the US Department of State has advised all its overseas visa offices to prioritise students, professors and researchers in the waiting list for visa interviews. Since August 1 this year, the State Department has required most visa applicants to attend an interview in person, a change in procedure which was ushered in by Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and caused alarm among teaching institutions in the USA. Powell's message to US embassies and consular offices in May acknowledged, 'The Bureau of Consular Affairs' expects and accepts that many [visa issuing] posts will face processing backlogs for the indefinite future'.

The presidents of four different organisations representing the international education industry wrote a letter to Powell urging him to postpone the new rule or at least delay the requirement until additional resources could be found to cope with the backlog. They applauded the news that foreign students will be prioritised.

Nils Hasselmo, President of the Association of American Universities, commented that the Department of State had 'listened to the concerns that the higher education community has expressed'. The main concern expressed by the four signatories was that students would not be able to start the new term in time.

Meanwhile, efforts to make the visa system watertight have also led to high profile arrests of school officials involved in visa fraud, and students and professors suspected of terrorist connections in the USA. The new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also doubled the number of its agents to 5,500.

It has been revealed, however, that of 62 indictments for international terrorism recorded in New Jersey last year, 60 of these were actually Toefl test cheats. Terrorism statistics are being overstated and confused with general visa fraud, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Education providers argue that such news is not conducive to students' adaptation in the country.

Sars fallout hits Canada hard

Reports in the press in Canada indicate that the summer season for English language teaching almost dried up this year, as Asian students stayed away from Canada because of fears over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars). Language schools around the country reported a significant loss of revenue, despite the fact that most reported cases of Sars were limited to Ontario.

Some school districts that run annual summer programmes were forced to abandon them this year, as school tour groups from Asia simply cancelled their plans. Marg Davis, from the International Public Secondary Education Association in British Columbia, told The Province newspaper that most school districts in the province had closed summer programmes. Business had 'just been decimated this year, and Sars seems to be the main reason', she said. The Vancouver School Board also reported no summer groups.

However, at the time of going to press, some schools told Language Travel Magazine that bookings were already beginning to return for the autumn, and according to one newspaper report, high school enrolments, starting in the autumn, had not been affected at many institutions.

Gayle Forler of Language Studies Canada (LSC), which has four schools in the country, said, 'Sars has had a big impact on our industry and every other tourist industry in Toronto. We were fortunate that most of our Sars cancellations transferred to another LSC school. The great news is that they are already transferring back.'

Meanwhile, CEC Network, which promotes Canadian education around the world, launched 'major reputation recovery campaigns' in key markets. For example, adverts were taken out in China to assert that Canada's visa policy remained unchanged, and promote Toronto as a safe study destination.

Drop in student numbers forecast in USA

International student numbers at US language schools will have dropped significantly this summer, when compared with 2001 and 2002 figures, according to the results of a survey taken by the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) and the Institute of International Education (IIE).

A 'flash survey' of AAIEP members was conducted in May, with institutions asked to predict expected enrolments for the 2003 summer season. The results from 163 members reveal that student numbers are expected to be 19 per cent down on 2002 numbers and 30.5 per cent down since 2001. The survey was conducted in response to concerns about a drop in summer language programme enrolments since the summer of 2001, prior to September 11, and the subsequent tightening of the visa issuing system.

In the report about the findings, published by IIE, comments from anonymous sources included, 'We do not see even half the number of applications that we would have at this time for summer and next fall'. Particularly badly affected were the Middle Eastern, Brazilian and Colombian markets, according to sources. Visa delays and denials were attributed to be the main cause of the downturn in the USA, with concern about Sars and internal problems in Colombia and Venezuela also affecting demand.

Peter Thomas, Past President of AAIEP, said the findings signalled problems for other education sectors, as colleges and universities often accepted students who would enrol for a Toefl programme first. 'The peak season for English programmes is the summer, which is why [the results are] so significant,' he said.

Evendine College in the UK closes all its schools

A language school chain in London, UK, closed down unexpectedly in June, leaving many students without accommodation or lessons to go to.

The shock closure of Evendine College happened while the school was reported to be under investigation by the Home Office. Allegations appeared in a local London newspaper that the schools were enrolling students even if some of them said they planned to work and would not be able to attend lessons.

Students were reported to find the schools locked one morning, while teachers were told by letter not to come to work, according to the Evening Standard newspaper.

One agency, Language Academy London, set up a website for concerned students offering placements on an alternative programme offered by Malvern House College, which is accredited by the British Council. The programme, which has limited availability, includes some weeks of free tuition depending on the number of weeks of tuition lost.

Tony Millns at Arels commented, '[We] urge reputable agents to have no dealings with... non-accredited organisations.'

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