By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

I am back at the news desk after a brief absence for last week’s Alphe Brazil Conference where I was representing StudyTravel Magazine on the exhibition stand.

My first visit to the country, which was all very exciting itself, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many convivial agents from Brazil and the wider Latin American region. For those that fancy a flavour of the event or those that want to relive the buzz, there are some photos here.  

I seemingly cannot escape currency talk at the moment, but that was the hot discussion topic and exchange rates is probably the issue that characterises the wider international education industry so far in 2015.

We have mentioned in this column before that exchange rates are a fact of life in the study travel and broader travel sectors. But as one global educator at Alphe Brazil commented to me, to have so many large recruitment markets suffering from weak currency at the same time – the Eurozone, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine – is something of a challenge for the industry.

As for the Brazilians, the real stood at US$2.32 one year ago; today it is valued at US$3.24. Needless to say, this is impacting upon the Brazilian agency business.

The beneficiaries of this situation, according to most of the agents I spoke to, are likely to be Canada and Ireland. The currency fluctuation with Canada, already a very popular destination for Brazilian students anyway as our recent agency survey on Brazil showed, has been less severe. Likewise with the euro, but Ireland’s more generous work privileges for international students are “a big consideration” as one agent reported.

With the country also gripped by a political crisis – widespread anti-government protests took place across Brazil last weekend – I was advised that the richer students are “hedging their bets about when to book” and that the less rich are “just thinking” at the moment. Carlos Robles, President of Brazilian agency association Belta, which held a training session and AGM prior to Alphe Brazil, warned the combination of economic and political strains could “paralyse the market” this year.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all doom and gloom at the conference! I heard positive stories of small agencies expanding: some were opening franchises or new offices; some were expanding into more in-country provision to offer pre- and post- study abroad tuition.

Family programmes was a developing area mentioned by many agents; there is clear growth in privately funded, full degree study abroad; several agents were looking for smaller, independent language schools to expand their portfolios; and Belta advised me that students are becoming more aware of their quality assurance mark.

And I also heard talk of positive measures from educators to support their Brazilian partners through currency woes. As one school commented to me, “You have to stay in markets when they are not doing well.”


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