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ELT agents attempt to assuage crisis fears

Despite economic and political tensions in key ELT source markets, national initiatives to promote foreign language learning and a strengthening link of languages to employability continue to drive demand for study abroad in Brazil, Spain, Russia and Turkey.

L-R: Eren Goker, UED; Anastassia Romanenko, AREA; Juan Manuel Elizalde, Aseproce; Maura Leão, Belta. Photo: The PIE News.

“Interest for study abroad is still there, of course; but now a lot of students are looking for scholarships or discounts”

This was the message shared by representatives of education agency associations in the four countries at a recent panel hosted by the Association of Language Travel Organisations on the fringes of the ICEF Berlin workshop this month.

“We need to have a foreign language… to get a better job, you have to be well trained, so the demand is there”

A growing awareness of the need to upskill in order to get ahead in a tough economy is fuelling demand for overseas language learning in Turkey, where “most of the market” is adult learners seeking language courses, according to Eren Goker, president of UED, one of the country’s agency associations.

Employment is also driving the outbound market in Brazil, Maura Leão, president of the Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association, told attendees.

“Why? Because we need to have a foreign language and English is the main one that we should learn… to get a better job, you have to be well trained, so the demand is there.”

The economic crisis has created a growing pool of unemployed people who have more time to spend overseas, Leão added.

As a result, people are no longer restricted by annual leave allowances and are using redundancy packages to fund longer periods of study abroad. Agencies report growth in the periods spent overseas of between four and six months, up from around four weeks previously.

Meanwhile, agencies are optimistic that government initiatives to promote language learning may also boost outbound mobility.

In Spain, the introduction of a national English exam is driving up standards of English and encouraging more students to study abroad, said Juan Manuel Elizalde, who has just stepped down as president of Aseproce.

English language proficiency is becoming “more and more important” in Spain, where more schools and universities are beginning to teach some subjects in English, he said.

Russia also has similar plans to introduce an end of high school English exam by 2020, which Anastassia Romanenko, board representative of the Association of Russian Educational Advisors, said will also entice parents to send their children overseas to study and improve their language skills.

She did acknowledge however a significant 45% decline in business this summer on average across AREA members because of economic and political pressures.

“Countries like the Czech Republic will also suddenly experience some growth, because they can offer a very economical product”

Looking ahead to the next year, Romanenko predicted: “We’ll have more or less the same number of outgoing students, but they will be going to other places.”

In the last year, Russian agents have seen an increase in demand for ‘budget’ study abroad options, as parents eschew summer camps in the traditionally popular but more expensive UK.

“Maybe other countries like the Czech Republic will also suddenly experience some growth, because they can offer a very economical product,” she predicted.

In all four countries, the UK and US are losing ground to destinations such as Ireland, Malta and South Africa, owing to the strength of the sterling and dollar and higher prices of courses.

Australia and Canada are also set to become “booming markets” for Turkey next year, as well as Ireland, forecasted Goker.

Australia and Canada are increasingly attractive destinations because of their work and post-study work offerings, panellists agreed.

Meanwhile, institutions can also make themselves more attractive to students by offering financial incentives, Romanenko said.

“Interest [for study abroad] is still there, of course; but now a lot of students are looking for scholarships or free education or discounts and so on,” she remarked.

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