Of all the sub-sectors of international education, the language teaching industry has suffered most from the world recession, with some language schools reporting a difficult time maintaining enrolment levels.
Business has also suffered from the respective visa and currency challenges seen in the UK and Australia. However, by diversifying products, focusing on new sectors and making strategic acquisitions, many of the larger operators have managed to keep growing healthily and look forward to 2013.
An example is sector specialist EC, which since 2010 has expanded its cadre of schools to 16 in five countries.
Over the last two years, it acquired three Canadian schools in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (LSC schools which are now operating under the EC brand), as well as opening in Bristol, UK; San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, USA. The company welcomed 34,000 students in 2011 (up 6,000 from 2010) while revenue climbed from €35 million to a very impressive €59 million.
ELS continues to grow rapidly and has opened 15 new language centres since 2010
Other ELT outfits that spread their delivery across multiple markets have also done well. Language giant Wall Street Institute has grown from 430 centres in 2010 to 459 in 2012 across 27 countries, while adding professional skills content to its core curriculum and launching an app featuring Financial Times content.
EF, which does not publicise revenues or student numbers, also reported growth expanding to 400 schools and offices across 55 countries, with many of its gains in China. “Total schools in China have probably gone from around 100-120 at the start of 2010 to the current 175 and we are still expanding rapidly in China,” says Michael Lu, senior vice president, Group Global Communications.
Indeed, on The PIE News earlier this year it was reported that EF would be opening one school a week in China for the rest of 2012. The firm’s Englishtown online school service is also expanding globally, particularly in Latin America.
US firm ELS (owned by Berlitz), which runs campus-based English schools in 85 locations, also continues to grow rapidly and has opened 15 new language centres since 2010, including acquiring an Australian business (Universal English College in Sydney, Australia).
It plans to open a further five centres in 2012/13, including an on-campus partnership with Skema business school in the south of France; its first foray into Europe.
Between 2010 and 2011, Kaplan International Colleges (KIC) states that it saw enrolments climb from 55,000 to 65,000 across its 43 English language schools, 21 of which are located in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and 22 in the US (where they operate under the name Kaplan International Centers).
Meanwhile, the experiences of those operators dominant in specific markets (rather than with global reach) have varied.
Navitas is an Australian success story, but has faced challenges at home
Navitas, which views itself as Australia’s biggest English provider (across private schools and public contracts) – and delivered Elicos and Tesol programs to more than 22,500 students across the country in 2011 – has suffered from the general national downturn started by changes to student visa rules in 2009 and perpetuated by a high dollar. This contributed to full year earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) in its English Division falling 24% to $5.2m in 2012.
James Fuller, Navitas’ group manager of public relations, blamed a tough first half. “The low result for H1 was due to lower enrolments numbers in ELICOS but mostly due to costs associated with new government English language contracts (non-ELICOS) such as staffing and setting up new locations,” he says.
Bell saw stable revenue of £25m, thanks in part to “double digit growth” in its young learners offerings
But in the UK, where English language schools have been buffeted by new visa rules and costly accreditation requirements, The Bell Educational Trust, which operates the global Bell brand, has braced the headwinds. In 2011 it educated 10,000 students in Britain and saw stable revenue of £25m (up from £24.3m), thanks in part to “double digit growth” in its young learners offerings – highlighting a juniors boom noted by The PIE last year. The company also says it is seeing growth in business overseas, particularly in Asia.
Spanish, French and other language providers
Growth has not been restricted to the English language sector, as seen with Spanish language chains Don Quijote and Enforex (owned alongside Solexico, Enfocamp and eduSpain by Ideal Education Group). Ideal’s owner, Antonio Anadón, says business has shifted to shorter courses across the group, which consists of 18 schools and eight summer camps in Spain and 12 partner schools in Latin America, due to reduced spending power in the market.
However, enrolments grew from 37,590 in 2010 to 38,975 in 2011 (plus 3% more this year so far), while revenue climbed 6,5% to close to €38,9 million in 2011 (with profits of 13%). The company now wants to build its agent base worldwide and has its eye on Latin America for 2013, after buying the Solexico chain in Mexico last summer.
“Nowadays Mexico is really going up slowly as a study and language destination and within one or two years it will be growing a lot!” says Anadón. “Our next step will be to launch our own schools in more locations in Latin America like Argentina then Costa Rica, Colombia or Cuba. Our goal is to buy the best schools in each location and give them our support, brands and top quality programmes.” [more>]