Visas damaging South African EFL, but hopes of reform

01 October, 2015

South Africa’s EFL sector is feeling the full impact of student visa regulations introduced last year, with school association Education South Africa (EduSA) reporting a 34 per cent decline in student numbers and a 26 per cent drop in student weeks for the first half of 2015.

Johannes Kraus, Chair of Education South Africa, presents association data at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference 2015 in Cape Town

EduSA’s 23 member schools welcomed 3,589 students from January to June, compared with 5,419 in the same period last year, according to EduSA data presented in a special session at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference 2015 in Cape Town last week.

Measures introduced by the Department of Home Affairs last year mean that language study is no longer considered a valid reason to apply for a study visa.

The Q2 (April-to-June) 2015 EduSA member school data shows an even more visible effect, with student number and student week declines of 46 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.

Johannes Kraus, Chair of EduSA and Director of Kurus English, told StudyTravel Magazine the visa regulations had clearly impacted on some key markets. “For example, we had a 55 per cent decline in student numbers from South America, one of our most popular long-term booking markets. Also Africa is down 37 per cent in the first half of the year. The decrease in student arrivals from Angola has affected most of the schools in South Africa.”

Within the 2015 Q2 figures, student numbers from all five of South Africa’s top source markets in 2014 declined by at least 30 per cent. Brazil, the largest source market last year, fell by some 60 per cent in Q2.

Moreover, the lack of straightforward travel visa entry has also dampened marketing efforts in certain key markets, said Kraus. “Basically, the markets that need visas from day one for coming to South Africa: Angola, Libya, Saudi Arabia and China.”

On a more positive note, Kraus said there were encouraging signals that the government was listening to the sector’s concerns.

“Actually there is movement at the moment, and we are full of hope that the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Higher Education and Training are meeting any day now. Both departments are aware of the problem, and both have expressed willingness to find an interim solution that would give us, as EduSA, the time to find our place in the South African educational landscape,” he said.

Another factor impacting on the South African industry is the current low oil price, which has dampened demand for company investment in ESP programmes in the oil and gas sectors, particularly from Angola, which saw student numbers fall 30 per cent in Q2.

Gavin Eyre, Managing Director of International House Cape Town, which has a branch school in Angola, explained the Angolan budget was based on US$100 per barrel, leading to a huge shortfall at the current rate of US$48.

When asked if the oil price had impacted on business, Shaun Fitzhenry, Owner of Bay Language Institute, said, “Definitely, especially the Angolans. They have become very strict about foreign currency exchange, which is causing some problems. That said, I think any loss of business from these markets still has more to do with visas.”

Howard Johnson, Centre Manager at Eurocentres Cape Town commented, “There has been a huge decrease in Angolans to South Africa. The main reason is visas, but many companies are tightening their belts because of the low oil price. We even had a mail from one company clearly stating no training will be happening in the first half of 2015 until further notice.”

The Q2 data showed that 55 per cent of students at EduSA schools were recruited via agents. The agent-sourced ratio was significantly higher for Europe (80.5 per cent) and Central/South America (72 per cent).

StudyTravel Magazine’s most recent market analysis feature on South Africa’s language school industry was published earlier this year.

Matthew Knott
News Editor


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