Nationwide rollout of Italian PON funds

05, February, 2015


Italian agents from across the nation can now get involved with the PON scheme, as the Ministry of Education (MoE) has allocated funding to all regions of the country for each year from 2015-2020.


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This development means that third-to-fifth year secondary students can apply for scholarships to study another language in Europe regardless of their location, whereas last year only students from southern Italy were eligible.

While €3bn (US$3.4bn) was made available to students from the “less-developed” regions of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia in 2014, this year the same amount will be spread across all regions, said Henry Tolley, Head of Business Development at Trinity College London. He spoke at an event held at the British Council (BC) Head Quarters in London, UK, this week for BC-accredited language schools considering their involvement in the scheme, and added that €2.1bn (US$2.4bn) will be allocated to these areas in 2015. Meanwhile, €200m (US$229m) will go to regions that are “in transition”: Abruzzo, Molise and Sardegna; while the remaining regions will receive €700m (US$801m) in total.

Davide Bresquar, Board Member from the Italian agency association Ialca, urged delegates to enlist the help of accredited agents to organise PON placements, as schools could face challenges in doing so. Agents knew the market and could help with tricky requests, deal with emergencies by maintaining contact with parents and also help schools receive their final payment after the programme, he said.

According to Italian law, customers must go through a travel agency when organising group programmes abroad as they hold liability insurance, but this has not always been the case with the PON programme. Therefore, Bresquar said Ialca lodged an official complaint with the MoE, as technically the scheme is not following the law in this regard.

“Payments come in instalments, but very very late,” he added. “The latest [I have come across] is 12 months later, and I have heard of some colleagues who received the funds 15 months after the programme had finished...The strength of working with agents is that the agency will take on the majority of the financial burden, whereas if you want to work [with the school] directly then this is on your shoulders.”

Issues with the PON programme raised by the delegation included that the requirements set by the Italian schools were often unrealistic. Tim Barker from Language In Group in the UK and Ireland mentioned that many schools requested three star hotels for their students in central London, which was not likely to be possible for most students. He also said that there were fewer students in 2014 than in 2012 but demands were higher and budgets were squeezed because of currency rates.

Another delegate said that there needed to be better coverage of PON students across the UK and Ireland, as students tended to go to particular cities such as London or Dublin in their masses. It was suggested that agents could help with this. The delegation also suspected that a price war is going on, with language schools offering the lowest tuition fees securing placements, but Bresquar provided reassurance that this is not true. However, he said that BC accreditation was not necessary to secure deals and that the Italian government needs to introduce more quality assurance measures. Sarah Wang from English UK said that the association was looking into this.

Bresquar added that in 2012, 78.2 per cent of the 30,000 students on the PON scheme chose to study English. French, Spanish and German language schools also received a small proportion of bookings.

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