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Russian parents, agents suffer effects of rouble crash

Russian education agents are suffering the effects of December’s rouble crash, as the currency’s plummeting value – which fell by 41% against the dollar in 2014 – renders study abroad unaffordable for many of the middle class Russian families who might otherwise send their children overseas.

The rouble fell by 41% against the dollar in 2014. Photo: Dmitry Dzhus.

“I think that this year may be like the beginning of the ‘90s - group travel, cheaper options may come into fashion again”

A steadily declining rouble, strong foreign currency rates and visa delays meant that, like many agencies, Moscow-based Masterclass was already dealing with fewer students than usual before the main crash in mid-December, when the rouble lost almost a quarter of its value in two days.

“December was awful for us. There was panic among our students”

“December was awful for us,” Executive Manager Julia Gribkova told The PIE News. “There was panic among our students.”

Simply put, many agencies are seeing “less bookings, less queries, and if we have queries we do not have bookings,” Sergei Alyoshin, Director of Petro-Lingua, said.

“We have seen a substantial effect,” he told The PIE News. “Our potential clients have become anxious; we still have queries, but they call expecting that the prices are not so high.”

However, enrolments for upcoming summer courses – hugely popular among Russian students – are anticipated to suffer the most damage.

Masterclass, which normally sends around 100 students abroad in winter and spring, has so far had just 37 signups for winter and spring programmes, while System-3 Education Centre, which sends around 200 students abroad annually, has seen its junior summer programme bookings fall from around 40 this time last year to “very, very few” this year.

The bookings System-3 did make were before the main crash, and none were made during December, Deputy Director Izabella Lauterpakht told The PIE News.

“Usually summer bookings are very active at this time,” she said. “Schools’ quotas for Russian students fill up very quickly, so parents have booked very early for the last two or three years.”

“I think we will be very late with bookings this year,” she continued. “People are really waiting to see what is going on. We really are worried.”

Agencies are also concerned that students who are already boarding overseas may be forced to withdraw as in some cases parents may end up spending an additional £1000-£2000 in fees per term..

“I think we will be very late with bookings this year. We really are worried”

“People either have to get used to it or to make the decision to withdraw their children,” Lauterpakht commented.

“It’s such a pity to let children go, so we are hoping that schools will be flexible and parents will look at ways of coping with the situation.”

Lauterpakht said enquiries about cheaper guardianship services and sixth form college options to ease the cost of study abroad have risen, which she suggested may develop into a more long-term trend.

“I really think that this year may be like the beginning of the ‘90s – group travel, cheaper options may come into fashion again,” she predicted, adding that System-3 may consider promoting traditionally less popular destinations such as Cyprus if the situation fails to improve.

“Parents usually prefer Britain, but maybe they would consider summer camps in Eastern Europe with some English speaking staff, things like that,” she remarked.

Education institutions are also adapting to the situation, with several offering discounts for Russian students, particularly in Canada and Ireland.

Among them is Canada-based language school ILAC, without whose discount Masterclass “might not have had students at all for Canada and ILAC,” Gribkova said.

ILAC’s Executive Director Jonathan Kolber said the discount was offered to prospective and pre-booked students as “a show of support rather than an attempt to get more students”.

“We wanted to offer some relief for students who already wanted to come here,” he said.

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