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Canadian ELT institutions adapt to new KASP reality

The dialling-down of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Programme has been a source of great concern to education institutions in Canada, which have seen their numbers fall in recent years, as they have in other study destinations. After a new requirement for KASP students to complete their ESL courses in 12 months wiped several providers off the approved list to receive students, institutions are adapting to a ‘new normal’.

Providers are adapting to a new reality that is less reliant on KASP students as student numbers dwindle. Photo: Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau Canada.

"At the tail-end of a programme, to be asked to rewrite your whole curriculum just didn’t make sense to us"

A letter from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau dated 27 October, shared anonymously with The PIE News, outlined that scholarship students who require ESL training before progressing to university-level study must complete their language training in a year.

“We felt that we couldn’t really change our whole approach and enforce that on other nationalities”

It added: “Please note that any changes implemented cannot be for Saudi students alone.”

Schools were given two months to make the changes, after which those whose courses did not comply were removed from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission’s approved list of ESL providers for the KASP scholarship.

East Coast School of Languages in Halifax, NS, is among a number of schools that decided not to change its curriculum.

“We just said we cannot take an 18-month curriculum – which is what ours would be if they start at absolute beginner and study right through to university – we can’t make that into 12 months and maintain the integrity of the programme,” commented president and CEO Sheila Nunn.

Even if the school had created an intensive class for Saudi students, “Most of our other students would not want to do 40 hours a week,” she added.

“We felt that we couldn’t really change our whole approach and enforce that on other nationalities.”

Adapting to the 12-month time limit has meanwhile been a challenge for many institutions. At Eurocentres Canada, students who previously had two years to complete the language requirement must now do the same in one year, and “some students are having difficulties achieving their goals within a year”, according to its managing director, Sharon Curl.

She added that the school has worked to create individualised learning plans for students to help them succeed.

The school has seen a drop in KASP student numbers in the last couple of years, but Curl said she is “hopeful” there will be other opportunities for student recruitment from Saudi Arabia.

“It was a good market for us prior to the scholarship programme,” she noted.

At ECSL, Nunn said that although the school’s student numbers have taken a hit since it was removed from SACM’s approved list, it is only a matter of time before the flow of scholarship students dries up anyway. Cutbacks look set to continue, and in any case the programme is slated to end in 2020.

“We’ve seen our numbers of Saudi students shrink significantly”

“If the programme had just been starting up, I think schools would have reacted differently… But I think at the tail-end of a programme, to be asked to rewrite your whole curriculum just didn’t make sense to us,” she explained.

Like other schools, ECSL has been cultivating other student markets to diversify its intake, making frequent visits to South America and Asia and “trying to make sure we have great relationships there”, she said.

“Our school’s been around for 18 years, so we knew what the landscape looked like before the Saudi scholarship students came along, so when they came along I knew that it was going to disappear one day too,” she said. “It was great to have them but almost as soon as we had them we thought we had to start preparing for when they wouldn’t be here.”

Other schools have continued to accept Saudi students, but have nevertheless seen a drastic decline in numbers.

“We’ve seen our numbers of Saudi students shrink significantly, which has had an impact on our nationality mix and has increased the seasonality of our revenues – this year anyway,” said Kristina Stewart, director of operations at Stewart College in Victoria, BC.

And the owner of another English language school in British Columbia that was able to accommodate the 12-month requirement and therefore remain on SACM’s approved list of ESL schools, has nevertheless seen its KASP student numbers slashed from 120 to 50 due to the dialling down of the programme.

“We knew what the landscape looked like before the Saudi scholarship students came along, so I knew that it was going to disappear one day”

However, he echoed that Canadian institutions must adapt to the changing reality.

“The need and will for study abroad still exists and is a high priority for Saudis,” he said. “We now have to transition the Saudi parent and student to a user pay rather than scholarship thinking – the same as the rest of the world,” he said.

The school is having some success with this approach, he said, but acknowledged that there will be a “transition period educating the parents and students and sales team” that may be challenging.

Wendy Luther, CEO of EduNova, Nova Scotia’s multi-sector international education consortium, confirmed that institutions in the province have been affected – “some more than others” – and are also working to recruit more self-funded Saudi students.

“Everyone knew instinctively that there were going to be changes to the programme, that it wouldn’t go on forever and ever, and now we need to recruit there, as we do in the other 152 countries where we have international students,” she said.

“Institutions have settled in a little into ‘this is the new normal’ – and also we’re exploring collaboratively other ways to engage in Saudi Arabia.”

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