This week, Alex Jones, Co-Founder of Red Tree Study agency, discusses the emergence of Colombia as a study travel destination.

Colombia is preparing for growth

The number of people travelling to Colombia for leisure and tourism has been steadily growing in recent years: in 2014, 4.2 million people visited from abroad, which was more than twice as many as did so in 2010. There is optimism in Colombia and beyond that the peace process will conclude successfully in early 2016, and that this added security will bring even more visitors to the country.

Colombia’s education sector recognises the benefits that this will bring, and from language schools to top universities, plans are being made to attract international students to programmes there.

Language schools were the first to pick up on the potential market growth, and several schools have expanded their offer and seen an increase in student numbers in recent years. Their development has been backed by the Colombian government, whose ministry of culture provides overseas marketing support and promotes Colombian Spanish through the Instituto Caro y Cuervo.  

The largest and most successful schools are found in popular tourist destinations: in and around Bogota’s historic Candelaria, or close to the leafy El Poblado district in Medellin. Traditionally, many language schools had offered long-term courses aimed at ex-pats or business people with long-term plans to stay in Colombia. With the growth in the tourism industry, schools have tailored their programs to suit a different student profile, aiming specifically for the backpacking market. Many promote ‘Spanish for backpackers’ courses, and have developed programmes that allow students to combine their language learning with cultural or travel activities, or split their time between two different cities and schools.

Colombia’s universities are also working to attract students from all over the world. Los Andes, a top Colombian university that consistently scores highly in international league tables, hosts university students from all over the world for semester and year abroad programmes. It also runs a two-month summer school each June and July, inviting academics and students from overseas to participate in tailored courses, and has seen its numbers of international students grow in tandem with the number of tourists in Colombia.

In Medellin, the prestigious EAFIT University has also developed a strategy of internationalisation in recent years that has brought it more and more students for Spanish language courses and academic study. Medellin is famed for its transformation from one of the world’s most dangerous cities to one that successfully pioneered social investment programmes such as the metro that helped it to become a favourite destination for business and leisure travellers alike. EAFIT has developed an international summer programme, ‘Conflict and Resolution’, that investigates this phenomenon specifically.

The pattern is repeated at universities throughout the country, as they recognise that short summer programmes are an excellent way to break into the international student market, and raise the profile of Colombia abroad. With excellent academic records, beautiful modern campuses and an imaginative and diverse range of programmes, it is an area that will continue to grow in future.  

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