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September 2005 issue

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Canada in control

Student numbers are getting back to normal in Canada after a few years of adverse market conditions – and the Canadian government is finally taking a keen interest in the sector. Amy Baker reports.

English language schools in Canada are in a comfortable situation, with many sources reporting a steady intake of students so far in 2005, following a good performance in 2004. Indeed, some institutions have experienced a growth in student enrolments. For example, Jim Clark at the Canadian College of English Language in Vancouver, BC, reports that their business is up 10 per cent on last year.

In Halifax, NS, Chris Musial of the International Language Institute says his unscientific analysis is that Canada is just starting to come out of a three-year slump which was mainly caused by the effects of the September 11 attacks and Sars. Since April this year, the school has experienced steady demand for places, and Musial adds, Our school is starting to hear from institutional clients and agents that we haven't heard from in a long time.

At Pacific Language Institute in Vancouver, BC, Robyn Inman is of the opinion that 2002 and early 2003 represent the benchmark of the good old days and that the market is now returning to its previous form. She hopes for a 10 per cent plus increase at year-end 2005 and observes a greater interest in non-standard products.

This is a trend noted by a number of schools. Cam Harvey, Managing Director of Global Village English Centres, which has four schools in the country, says, We are working from a new daily schedule that will allow us to introduce more options. We're particularly keen on a new English plus course with a focus on environmental conservation.

In Toronto, ONT, Magda Karasinska at ILAC relates that they too have seen an increase in students who are looking for [English] plus. She adds that many students are keen to study on a certificated language learning programme and then go on to university or college via a pathway programme.

According to Musial, their links with further education providers enhance the school's appeal, and broaden the nationality mix. ILI is the exclusive provider of university preparatory programmes for several brand-name Canadian universities, he notes. The benefit of these relationships means that our student body is diversified beyond traditional ESL source countries.

The nationality breakdown across schools, according to our Status survey (see above) indicates that the Asian nationalities of Korea, Japan and China are most prominent at Canadian schools overall. Inman says that at PLI the traditional nationalities still feature strongly: Korea, Japan, Brazil, Switzerland and Mexico, while Clark reports that Japanese numbers are down, while Brazilians are up.

Other schools see strong potential from South America, but report that any upturn is not yet apparent. Harvey relates, The pressure for discounts [from agents], particularly in the Latin American market, is making the prospects for healthy returns more of a challenge.

Nevertheless, agents remain an important part of the marketing mix for the majority of schools. Musial says, As always, agents are indispensable in our operation. Demanding students will continue to seek the advice of professional agencies for placement at quality schools.

Quality has become a focus in the Canadian language teaching industry, for schools' associations and the government, with efforts being made behind the scenes to define a national standard (see left). Government attention to the sector has also led to the decision to allow students – on university courses – to work part-time off-campus. With many language students intent on further study in Canada, the decision will have a trickledown effect for language schools too. The recent surprise decision will be a huge shot in the arm [for the industry overall], asserts Harvey.

Ailia, Capls and CLC

There are currently three associations that are actively seeking to refine and enhance the marketability of Canada as a study destination. The newest one, Association de L'Industrie de la Langue (Ailia), was set up in 2003 with a grant from the federal government. Ailia is distinct from the other associations in that it represents all the language industries; translation and technology developers as well as language training. Members of Canada Lanaguage Council (CLC) and the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools (Capls) sit on Ailia's board of directors and language training committee, and in turn, Ailia is an associate member of CLC and Capls. Johanne Boucher, President of Ailia, says that one of their international activities is ensuring that language training providers are part of trade missions sponsored by the government.

CLC and Capls have been working with various government agencies on a longer-term plan to come up with a national standard for language programmes. Jay Jamieson at CLC reports, Both the CLC and Capls recognise the importance of branding Canada internationally.

However, with no national accreditation scheme in sight, Capls unveiled its own new accreditation scheme earlier this year. An accompanying logo was launched in July. CLC overhauled its own accreditation scheme in 2002/2003.

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