By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

Currency exchange rates never seem to be far from the news pages of StudyTravel Magazine, and these usually relate to declines affecting outbound markets, as we have seen so visibly with the Russian and Ukrainian agency sectors over the last year or so.

So it is pleasing to report this week on a sudden change that should positively impact on the number of students heading overseas: namely the shock decision of the Swiss government to remove the franc from a cap against the euro and its subsequent appreciation.

As Marcel Rüfenacht, President of the Swiss agency association SALTA, told us, this has made outbound programmes around 20 per cent cheaper for Swiss students. The early indications he outlined were that bookings for destinations such as the UK that would normally be expected later in the year are coming in earlier, and that some students are booking an extra week.

Switzerland is one of the dependable markets of the study travel sector, and in seven of the language study destinations we surveyed in 2013, Switzerland was in the top five source countries. Those destinations will no doubt be delighted with the emboldened purchasing power of the Swiss student.

But this can be a double-edged sword for agencies, as Rüfenacht explained. While member agents will be hopeful of extra clientele, this will actually be a necessity for them because the value of their commission payments from partner schools will have declined when converted back to Swiss francs. Switzerland is a saturated, competitive market, Rüfenacht says, and drumming up extra business is not easy however favourable the exchange rate.

Another interesting story this week was a government-backed study in France that suggested the country should begin charging full tuition fees for non-EU students at state-funded universities, essentially following the Scandinavian model of a two-tiered system of virtually free tuition for EU students and full fees for non-EU students. Currently France’s public institutions charge a flat minimal administration fee for all students, regardless of nationality.

The likes of Sweden and Denmark had a precipitous drop in non-EU students immediately after introducing such a policy, and it must be noted that France is a far more significant player globally with around six per cent market share of international students on higher education programmes in 2012, according to the latest OCED statistics, bettered only by the UK and the USA.  

Would France experience the same kind of decline? Well, the authors of the report did acknowledge that the use of study travel agents alongside more unified branding of France’s higher education offer and strategic targeting of key markets would be one of the ways to ensure the levels of recruitment are maintained. The private sector in France is already more active in recruitment and agency usage, as a special article in the current issue of StudyTravel Magazine highlights. If state-funded institutions follow suit, this could be very good development for the agency industry.

In other news, it is that time of year again folks – forget the Oscars, TV talent shows and general elections, because the only vote that matters is upon us once again!

Yes, the voting for the STM Star Awards 2015 will open on Monday 9th February. Keep an eye on your inbox for more details and voting links.

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