By Matthew Knott, News Editor of StudyTravel Magazine

Positive news coming out of South Africa this week, where language school association Education South Africa (EduSA) has reported an increase in student numbers and student weeks in 2014.

Despite concerns relating to changes in South Africa’s visa system – which led to differing interpretations by embassies of whether a language school was a valid institution for a study visa – and the threat of the Ebola virus in Western Africa, EduSA members recorded 11 per cent growth in students to 10,113 and a six per cent rise in student weeks to 57,493.

Agents certainly played a part in this growth; bookings via agents jumped by 12 per cent to 6,111. While recruitment through agents is lower from the neighbouring African countries (26 per cent), there was high reliance on agents from the longer-haul markets of Europe and Latin America – 80 per cent and 82 per cent respectively.

And some of the most notable growth came from these regions: 35 per cent from Germany and 33 per cent from Switzerland (both in the top five source countries); 64 per cent from Argentina; and 53 per cent from Colombia.

It is quite likely that agents will have gone some way to ameliorating the threats to South Africa’s ELT industry. As English Australia Executive Director, Sue Blundell, commented to STM recently, “The further students have to travel, the more they rely on good advice from agents before they leave their country.”

The further away students are, the less knowledgeable they are likely to be about a destination. A Brazilian agent told us that Ebola was the first time a global event had really impacted on the country’s outbound market. Alas, he said, many students put all of Africa together. Agents, therefore, have a key role in informing students and assuaging such fears. Likewise, agent expertise in helping students navigate the visa process is important at the best of times, but especially so in periods of transition and uncertainty.  

A word of caution regarding the visa changes came from Kraus, however. He said delays to implementation of the new Immigration Act and the fact that many 2014 courses were already booked anyway softened the immediate impact of the reforms. This could still eat into 2015’s enrolments, he warns.

On the plus side, EduSA members are wisely continuing with their pursuit of accreditation as Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, which would remove any barriers to them receiving long-term students on study permits. 

Another ELT destination, Malta, reported 2014 growth as well recently, and in this week’s ‘View from the desk of…’ column, we interview Feltom CEO, Genevieve Abela, about some of the reasons behind the increases there. And emphasising the importance of language study to Malta’s overall tourism industry, Abela said in an interesting recent local media interview that students represented 13 per cent of bed-nights in the country and take up significant proportions of seats on new flight routes into the country.

Elsewhere in the news this week, we have a story on the impacts of a teacher strike at Spanish chain school Babylon Idiomas, and report that ABLS Accreditation in the UK has become the latest national body to join the nascent Quality Assurance in Language Education Network (Qalen).


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