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Education agencies urge students to postpone rather than cancel

“We have been creating campaigns telling people that they should not cancel their programs but postpone for a later date,” CEO of Brazilian agency TravelMate Alexandre Argenta says. The agency has been working closely together with the country’s agency association BELTA, he adds.

Sometimes years of planning and preparation has gone into an education overseas. Photo: DFAT

"General customer behaviour in relation to new bookings is of course extremely restrained"

Countries closing both borders and visa processing make it “hard to confirm when this later date would be” however, he notes.

Cris Zanin of Yonder Education says that his agency is “reorganising content for those who want to postpone study plans and [creating] other content to help others to manage anxiety and family distance”.

“We are using time to think of other parallel business inside the market,” Zanin explains – echoing the situation as described by other education consultants around the world.

Diogo Rodrigues, CEO of Yes Intercambio confirms that the agency had been having postponements, “but not cancellations”.

“Their concern is not about the coronavirus, but the unexpected high exchange rate we are facing”

“The fact that we are specialised on higher ed – and that our college counselling is providing several months, sometimes years of preparations to students and their families – their concern is not about the coronavirus, but the unexpected high exchange rate we are facing,” he notes.

Yes Intercambio has developed a list of online options to prepare students with summer semester credits online “without jeopardising their academic year”.

“Our main focus is about making sure our students are safe. And that our partners are providing all support needed,” Rodrigues concludes.

TravelMate has also launched free online English classes open to the public through Instagram “to motivate people to continue getting better prepared to travel abroad in the future”, Argenta adds.

Beyond Brazil, the pandemic represents a “short-term disaster” for Paul Moroney of Ireland-based GoLearn Agency.

“But at GoLearn we are viewing it as just that – short-term,” he states.

Moroney expects business to resume in two to three months, “albeit at a slower pace as the economies of both Ireland and target markets recover”.

Some proactive students are planning for June or July, taking advantage of current promotions on offer, he adds. Higher education students still plan for September intakes.

The accredited schools GoLearn works with provide online classes so that the agency “can continue to cater to current students’ need to learn English”.

Similarly, Philippa Dralet ​of Futurystic based in France is promoting partner schools’ “attractive online learning packages”.

Students remain “eager to return to school as soon as they can”

“All my one-year students have returned to their home countries with online teaching put into place by their schools,” she explains.

Schools have all been quick to put effective online programs into place, Dralet adds, but students remain “eager to return to school as soon as they can”.

In Germany, the pandemic has hit members of the country’s association of language tour operators (FDSV) “very hard”, according to managing director Julia Richter.

All language schools in Germany have been closed since March 16, and outbound travel bookings are down.

“The Easter business is practically eliminated,” she explains. “Most German states have cancelled school trips until the end of the school year. General customer behaviour in relation to new bookings is of course extremely restrained due to the unpredictable situation.”

For youth travel, operators are hoping for the summer, while as far as the adult market is concerned there is hope for late summer and autumn resurgence. “But who knows when travelling is possible again?” she asks.

“Many German tour operators try to offer a travel voucher instead of repayment to the customers in order to postpone the planned trip to a later date. However, this is actually not legally possible in Germany, but it is currently being examined by the government as a possible option,” Richter notes.

“This week we will publish online language courses on our website, so that those interested in language learning can continue to develop their language studies despite the coronavirus,” she states.

“In the end, however, I am sure that we will all come out stronger from the crisis. The desire to travel is still strong and bookings will come back as soon as there are no more travel warnings.”

Erion Kosovrasti CEO of Albanian agency Tandek Exchange your mind shares Richter’s positivity.

Despite the “great social and financial” impact the pandemic has had on business – leading to postponed or cancelled study plans, particularly to the US – the “situation has not discouraged students to send their inquires for studying abroad or exchange programs”, he says.

“Classroom education is most popular in Albania so the students can interact with others and share their experiences in an international environment,” Kosovrasti explains.

“We cannot lose trust and hope,” he says. “We continue to process student applications in accordance with the guidance and regulations from our partners. We will support our staff by hoping that this global “nightmare” called COVID-19 will be defeated and everything will come back to normal, again.”

“We try to find new products such as live stream courses or online courses”

The stark truth is that the pandemic has changed everything for now, however. Owner of Aspect Study Abroad in Ukraine, Larysa Neklyudova details that in March, all requests and bookings stopped in one day.

Aspect – which specialises in young learner programs – has witnessed the sector’s “dramatic impact” from the pandemic, Neklyudova notes.

“Not many families would risk sending their kids abroad if they are not sure that their health can be secure.” Neklyudova is putting faith in online provisions, too.

“At the moment we just collecting all the information about online courses and we hope that that is a good option to do something useful during a quarantine which might prolong through summer,” she says.

One of Kazakhstan’s biggest agencies, Alem Education faced “a strong wave of panic from parents the first days of coronavirus”, its CEO Dina Aisarina tells The PIE. The majority of students have opted to remain in countries where they study, however.

“Many of them decided not to go back and preferred to stay closer to their alma maters.”

Partners have effectively regularly updated Alem about safety regulations they follow in order to help international students stay safe, Aisarina indicates.

However, she highlights that transition to online study platforms has not been smooth. “Not much attention yet is paid to the options of online classes,” in her experience, but the agency is working to promote digital provisions.

Lockdowns in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and UAE have “badly effected” operations for Yes Atlas, its CEO and founder Haitam Giat reveals. It is a similar story for many agents in the MENA region, he says.

“We do remote support for existing students only, who want to cancel or want to return back home,” Giat explains.

“At this stage we are learning the situation, reducing cost of operation and try to find new products such as live stream courses or online courses.”

Like in Kazakhstan, students in México have not been opting for online education, Karla Rios of Conexion Global Mexico details.

“Our priority is trying to postpone the program for upcoming students so that they do not cancel,” she says. So far the agency has not had any cancellations, but students are postponing programs until 2021.

“We are also focusing on promoting programs for September when hopefully everything will have been settled,” Rios explained, adding that Conexion Global has had to bring most of its students back to México.

The situation will be exacerbated if the coronavirus pandemic continues into summer, meaning Conexion Global will have to cancel all summer programs, including groups, Rios adds. Like Richter in Germany, the whole sector seems to have the same question: who knows when travelling will be possible again?

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