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Collaborate to survive, agents & schools urge

Language providers and agents must cooperate to ensure they survive the coronavirus crisis, stakeholders emphasised in an online conference organised by Turkish agency association YEDAB.

Online options are "never going to replace full in-country learning. But they will hopefully keep that desire to learn a new language going". Photo: Pexels/ Johannes Rapprich

"More than ever it is very important that we communicate, and together we try to find solutions"

As educators continued to tout online education as a stop-gap until travelling resumes, the industry should “look for positives and find opportunities where we have them” in order to weather the storm.

However, some indicated that making a profit in the current climate should not be a “primary goal”.

“For many of the people in this industry, the situation is a question of existence”

“For many of the people in this industry, the situation is a question of existence,” Seher Neöz, business development manager at ICEF said.

“It shouldn’t be a primary goal to make a profit off a situation like this. It should be more to try to overcome these difficult times and support each other,” she said.

“We have to adjust to a new situation. We have to try out new things.”

Many in the industry understand that some agencies are reluctant to promote online education, Neöz added.

However, it is a “short term solution”, and one that may prove complementary to on-campus education.

“To be honest and to be realistic, when we look around the entire world, there is no other solution at the moment,” she continued.

A consortium of well-known UK ELT providers has previously urged partners to “do your utmost to persuade students to accept either a postponement or the online courses”, before considering cancellations.

In a statement, YEDAB said that fees for online programs should be less than in-person education.

While language schools have been having difficulties during the pandemic, problems have escalated due to lack of communication, director of Turkish agency Global Vizyon, Deniz Akar said, as he called for more cooperation.

“Some language schools [stopped] communication with agents. In the last couple of months, we are really having difficulty reaching them,” he explained.

“They issued credit notes to students. Now, we don’t know if they are going to run centres or are they going to close any centres.”

While most providers had been “showing us you are there…and [wanting] to carry on the business” by sending promotions or discounts, others – including some big chains had “disappeared”, Akar said.

Ashleigh Veres from Malvern International urged agents to get in touch with issues regarding refunds.

“We put in place a policy whereby a student could choose to either defer to a later time in the year…or to request a refund,” she said.

“I think the key thing is for trusted partners to speak to their schools to find solutions to that.”

Through provisions like Malvern Online Academy – which has been operating since 2018 – students are offered a “stop-gap until students are able to travel and able to get back to doing their studies in the traditional way,” Veres said.

“It’s a very difficult situation for both, obviously schools, but also agents,” Gosia Ercan, regional sales director – Turkey at Kaplan International English echoed.

“I think more than ever it is very important that we communicate, listen to each other’s feedback, and that together we try to find solutions.”

Flexible credit letters – which can be transferred to clients’ friends and family – have been one way Kaplan has sought to solve some issues.

“Long term, we want our schools to reopen. We want students to be travelling”

“Long term, we want our schools to reopen. We want students to be travelling,” CES Edinburgh vice-principal, Johnathan Cockayne said. “It’s the market we want to go back to.”

Students are “still out there and still wanting to learn”, he continued. “Online options are “never going to replace full in-country learning.

“But they [will]… keep the market alive, keep students aware of what’s happening and hopefully keep that desire to learn a language.”

As schools and agents face cash flow issues, schools need to be providing a product that is going to allow agents the opportunity to bring in some income in the short term, Cockayne added.

“And that’s what these online classes can do,” he said.

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