This week, Christopher Beck, Director of the Vancouver, BC, branch at Language Studies International (LSI) Canada, gives insight into how the International Student Program (ISP) has affected business as of late.

“Last year was bad for us in regards to overall student numbers. Perhaps as the new ISP was looming competitor schools in Vancouver gave special discounts or promotions to agents, but I really do not know for sure. As an international company, it is perhaps more difficult for us to make quick decisions on promotions, as we would also be competing against other LSI schools if our Canadian schools started to give incentives that other LSI schools didn’t give. We lost out particularly in the Latin American market, probably because of the pending demise of the Language Co-op Programme [language plus work programmes are no longer permitted at language schools in Canada under new ISP rules]. The only market that did not suffer was our Japanese market, which remained strong.

This year, however, has been better. Our European (especially German and Swiss) market has been quite strong, perhaps because we kept our academic programme strong despite a poor 2013. The feedback from some European agents was that ESL in Canada had been watered down by schools offering English for the purpose of work instead of true language study. This year, we also notice a trend towards older students. We believe in putting the learning of English, whether for touristic reasons or a more academic focus, as the main business of our school, and that has not changed.

I think that uncertainty in what would happen when the Canadian Federal Government made changes to the ISP made study abroad agents wary to book Canadian schools in 2013, unless there was a substantial incentive to do so. Many schools put substantial resources into Language Co-op Programmes and got a lot of bookings from students who were probably more interested in work rather than study, and when the new ISP was announced this revenue stream started to dry up.

In Canada, immigration is federal and education is provincial. This creates a situation where each province has very different criteria for overseeing our industry. When the new ISP was announced, instead of having some across the board criteria for government oversight, every province went their own way and created a confusing situation for agents and direct students. Nova Scotia (NS) took the best route by using Languages Canada accreditation for the starting point of the new regulations; Ontario (ON) created a whole new system; and despite years of consultation, the British Columbia (BC) government tried to make private ESL schools conform to career college regulations. These are so different from the way ESL schools must do business that a number of meetings had to take place to educate government as to how we do business, and how the career college path was completely unworkable. BC is still in the midst of a constantly changing situation.

The biggest issue that I see is a lack of clear understanding by our federal and provincial governments in fully understanding how private ESL schools do business. Especially in British Columbia, we really got off on the wrong foot with our government about new oversight of our industry. Languages Canada met with the BC government several times in the last couple of years and we thought that we were far ahead of other provinces. Languages Canada has been excellent in helping clarify the differences between private language schools and other kinds of post-secondary institutions. I think that we are finally making some good progress and we see a bright horizon.”

For our latest Market Analysis feature on student enrolments at ELT schools in Canada, look out for the October 2014 issue of Study Travel Magazine.

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