Agents integral to Colombia outbound market

11 February, 2014

Agents play a “pivotal role” in Colombia’s outbound market with most clients looking to study abroad in order to improve career prospects at home, according to the latest English Language Market Report by the British Council, launched last week.

Presenters Nina Coutinho (centre left) and Alexandra Jones (centre right), with Steve Phillips, Director of English UK, and Anna Searle, Director of English Language at the British Council

The Colombia report, produced and presented by Alexandra Jones, Director of Red Tree Study, an agency with offices in Bogotá and London, was largely based on a survey completed by 35 different agencies in the country and included agent insights into perceptions of the UK as a study destination, typical course requests and the damage caused by changes to the Tier 4 student visa system.

A parallel survey by Jones of 35 students enrolled on English language courses in the UK found that every single student had used an agent to book their course, with 80 per cent contacting more than one agency. Reasons cited by Jones for heavy agency usage were that students preferred to involve and pay a Colombian company, and that the integral role of parents in the decision-making process reinforced the role of agents.

Future career prospects were clearly the largest motivating factor for clients in the agency survey, chosen by 68 per cent, followed by 13 per cent selecting entry to an undergraduate degree. Clients sent to the UK were predominantly on mid-length courses, according to the survey findings, with 53 per cent on seven-to-12 month programmes and 45 per cent of clients on courses between two and six months in duration.

More than half of the agents surveyed thought that the changes to the UK’s Tier 4 visa system, especially the removal of work rights for language students, has discouraged students from applying to the UK, although 16 per cent thought students were actually encouraged to choose the UK because there was now a lower risk of refusals. According to the agent survey, sixty-two per cent of students were on the Extended Student Visitor Visa, while 38 per cent selected Tier 4. Indeed, the UK ranked second among the agents in terms of fairness of the visa system, second only to Australia.

Jones said that cost of living was cited by agents as the main deterrent to studying in the UK, although she noted that agents, students and parents often had misconceptions about costs, particularly of courses outside of London. In conclusion, she commented, “As one agent said when asked about UK English language course recruitment in Colombia, ‘now is good’.”

At the same launch event, Nina Coutinho, Strategic Business Unit Director, English at British Council in Brazil, delivered a report entitled The Brazilian Market: The new C social class and opportunities in ELT, which focussed on in-country and future opportunities for UK providers in Brazil.

The middle class has grown from 38 per cent of the population in 2002 to 53 per cent (104 million people) in 2012, Coutinho said, but only five per cent of the population currently claim to be able to speak English. Nine per cent of people over 16 said they intended to take an English class in the next year, according to Data Popular research in the presentation, with 87 per cent preferring to learn at a language institute.

Unveiled at a launch event at The Royal Society in London last week, the research adds to the previous British Council English Language Market Reports on Russia, Japan, China, Italy, Turkey and Spain.

In the foreword to the Colombia paper, Anna Searle, Director of English Language at the British Council, said, “In identifying the need for English-language-specific market information, we have worked with English UK to prepare and present – through this series of reports – the kind of information that will help British Council-accredited providers to gain insights into how the education market works in Colombia.” She said she hoped the report would help the sector build closer ties with Colombian students, partners and agents.

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