This week, Cristina Hurtado of Director of Spanish agency Always School of Languages talks about changes in demand in Spain’s outbound study abroad market and her expectations for the next five years.

"Spanish students’ preferences in terms of foreign languages have changed in recent years as they embrace new languages and destinations, leading to a diversification of options which will become even more pronounced in the years to come.

The economic crisis has had a major impact on certain destinations, especially those which are further afield, given the need to reduce costs related to travel and to the various programmes as a whole. In quantitative terms, offers, low cost flights and more economical study options have grown substantially and this trend looks set to continue for several years. This will also continue to cement the absolute dominance of English as the language of choice, with the UK, Ireland and Malta remaining the top destinations among the Spanish, as well as the USA and Canada for students who have greater purchasing power and want to avoid destinations with significant Spanish populations.

French, German and Italian continue to rise and the destinations of choice – France, French-speaking Canada, Germany and Italy – continue to grow, though perhaps less rapidly than expected. The distribution of destinations between major capitals and other cities which are less saturated and offer more attractive experiences for many young people, will continue to evolve over the coming years, with an increase in new leisure options also enriching the experiences on offer.

However, the most important development of recent years, which could continue to characterise the next five years, is without a doubt the way the market has opened up to new languages and destinations, driven by the spectacular growth registered by certain countries, a desire to stand out from the crowd and the potential job opportunities. The notable increase in requests to learn Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and even Arabic will continue, especially if the expectations generated by these languages in terms of potential and opportunities are underpinned with real evidence and experiences. These trends are now clearly perceptible in the training offered in Spain, and demand for destinations like China and Russia as the most noteworthy preferences will continue to grow, bearing in mind that the trend going forward will depend on the costs of programmes, which remain prohibitive for the majority.

Once they reach their destination, Spanish students continue to choose student residences over families, with a ratio of over 3:1. In our experience, over 75% of young Spanish people choose this kind of accommodation – living with other students on campuses or in other accommodation, whilst just a third opt for a family, despite the latter generally being the more economical choice. Study is the main reason for travel, but the experience of living in another country, relationships with other students and the environment itself mean that rather than traditional study experiences, students want increasingly global experiences with a combination of work and play.

These demands mean that purely from a training perspective, the conventional offering of conversation classes and a period spent in the country will continue to be further enhanced with new attractions through programmes combining tourism, sports, culture and leisure in general.

The opportunity to participate actively in the lives of students in the destination country, as monitors or in other support roles, and to incorporate other solidarity or environment-related activities, will continue to gain ground within a product offering that must continue to evolve over the coming years. Within this offering, courses combining study and work in the destination country, or just work experience with no study component, will continue to gain ground, although with increasing limitations as a result of the lack of opportunities in the destination countries.

Spain’s economic situation and the difficulties encountered by young people in accessing the labour market have been significant drivers of change in the sector in recent years, with little support from overseas study grants, which have dwindled to the point of virtual disappearance. The economic climate and the progress made by the country itself will determine, to a great extent, the evolution not only of student preferences but also of the real overseas language training opportunities for many Spanish students."

An abridged version of this article, along with similar contributions from other agency markets, will appear in the Industry Issues section of the August issue of Study Travel Magazine.

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