US IEPs encouraged by Stakeholders 'innovation' dialogue

14 October, 2015

EnglishUSA held its Stakeholders Conference in October, where members came together to discuss issues regarding visas, student admissions and foreign government scholarships, with the backdrop theme of ‘innovation’ in light of recent student declines in the Intensive English Programme (IEP) sector.

Cheryl Delk-Le Good, new Executive Director of EnglishUSA, welcomes members to the 2015 Stakeholders Conference.

Attracting 140 delegates to Washington DC, USA, the conference, now in its third year, also welcomed Cheryl Delk-Le Good, the new Executive Director of EnglishUSA, who enthused that with its new unified voice, the association will now be more proactive, rather than reactive, with its continuing dialogue with stakeholders.

One such stakeholder is the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) who gave updates on their draft policy guidance for pathway programmes, student record keeping and transfers, and the backlog on recertification, as well as other issues relating to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

One member described how they had been waiting for over 10 months to assign a new DSO (a ‘designated school official’ to deal with international students), to which Louis Farrell, Director of SEVP, replied that he would implement a “dramatic change” to the process to make it much quicker, as he stated, “I’m tired of this dragging on, and it’s killing us, it’s killing our reputation.”

The issue of students transferring to a different IEP immediately upon arrival was also discussed. While the status of the student cannot be terminated, – “the problem is it’s the taxpayers’ SEVIS record” – Michael Hallanan, Policy Analyst at SEVP, explained that there were ways to ease the frustration. “You can charge [students] a fee for [the admin of admitting them],” he said. “If you’ve offered them a slot and reserved a place and you’re going to the trouble to arrange a presence, you can have them make a deposit of part – or all – of their tuition.”

Another hotly anticipated session came from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM), where Munira Aldayood, the new Director of ESL Programs at SACM, addressed members’ concerns on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Program (formerly known as The King Abdullah Scholarship Program). New policy in the country means that students have to take a standard English test at the end of their senior year of high school, which may affect IEP enrolment to lower levels of English language training.

With regards to bridge programmes and whether students can take academic classes with their ESL learning, Aldayood explained that while SACM has no issue with this, the financial department does. While she said that this is a problem that SACM needs to solve, Aldayood also noted that if students are currently taking both types of classes, they should not drop the academic classes if they will be under the number of classroom hours required by SEVP regulations.

On the topic of government scholarships, one session, Working with Foreign Government Scholarships – MENA, talked members through the many options available in the Middle East and North Africa. Students studying overseas from the MENA region increased by 20.2 per cent from 2012/13 to 2013/14, while the number of international students in the US grew from 819,600 to 886,000 during the same period. However, Lorna Middlebrough, Education Specialist for Iraq, US Department of State, said that scholarships should not be used as a quick fix for declining student numbers as agreements should be “nurtured”.

However, the potential in the region cannot be ignored, and scholarships aided the number of students studying abroad from Oman, which increased overall by 425 per cent from 2009/10 to 2013/14, while students from Iraq increased by 252 per cent and Kuwait by 198 per cent. Iran, a country with no scholarship initiatives in place, increased by 115 per cent during the same period.

Haviva Parnes, VP for Advocacy at EnglishUSA, acknowledged that this was a challenging time for members, but hoped that they would go away feeling bolstered by the fact that many significant governments and bodies are keen to form strong connections with IEPs. “I think there's a certain sense of hope that people are able to gain from each other and say, ‘even though we're struggling, look at all these things people are doing’,” she said.

Delk-Le Good, who attended the recent Gaela meeting in London, UK, added, “My goals are the goals based on the board and the member surveys.  We're planning on day visits, about three to four of those per year, so a lot of the panellists and speakers who were here, I'll now be following-up with them.”

Georgina Deacon
Staff Journalist


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