MCS: The business has changed a little bit this last year because we have an unstable situation in Lebanon, and also we have more than one million refugees who have come from Syria and from Iraq.
The PIE: And how is that impacting on your business?
MCS: We have more people wanting to travel, but the fact is that not all of them have the money to do so because we are self-funded, students are self-funded, but also rich families want their kids to go abroad, they think it’s better because the situation is a little bit unstable in all the Middle East region.
The PIE: Where do you find that they want the students to go? Which countries?
MCS: Before, two years ago, our first destination was the UK, but now more and more students want to go to Australia because the visas are easier and because also they can settle themselves there. In the UK they cannot – they have to leave after studying, so more and more they are asking about Australia and Canada, but Canada’s visa is difficult, Australia is much easier.
“The UK is very reluctant to admit people from the Middle East, this is what I think”
I spoke with some people from Australia, they told me that next year it will be even easier, the visa to Australia will be streamlined, very easy to do. More and more really we have for Australia and less for the UK, because there are so many changes, every few months there are changes in the visa regulations, in the test regulations, in the immigration… we feel really that the UK doesn’t want any more… they are not immigrants because the students will come back, but the UK is very reluctant to admit people from the Middle East, this is what I think.
The PIE: So does it create a problem for you when you’re counselling students? Do you sometimes feel a little bit awkward?
MCS: Yes, but now we have some profiles of student who will fit for the UK, they come from rich families, they have travelled a lot, they speak good English, but now other profiles don’t fit anymore for the UK. Before they could come on a language course, now they are no longer accepted.
The PIE: And where did you study abroad? How did you get involved in the industry?
MCS: I got involved in the industry by chance. Our agency was the first one in Lebanon and I stayed the only one for many years, but now more and more we have new agencies who are setting up, especially students who are going to study abroad and come back to open their own agencies.
“They get international exposure, they open their minds… I think that it is something that will increase, not decrease”
For ten years I was the only one, now there are maybe seven or eight, something like this. But some are only doing specific countries, some are doing only UK for example, some are catering only for Australia. Maybe we are one of the few agencies who are working with all countries.
The PIE: And how do you see the industry changing in the next few years? Do you think more families are saving earlier for their children or…
MCS: Yes, I see that more and more students are going to study abroad, because they get international exposure, they open their minds… I think that it is something that will increase, not decrease.
The PIE: And generally, the courses you sell, what are they? Are they pathway courses? General language? What are your most popular courses?
MCS: The most popular courses are pathways, Masters programmes and summer camps. Language courses are difficult for adult visas, so usually we do the pathway programme, not just language; language plus conditional acceptance to university.
The PIE: And most young Lebanese, do they plan on returning to Lebanon?
MCS: I think that all plan to return, this is the truth. They are seeking a better future.
The PIE: And how has the impact of migrants affected your industry? Is it creating pressure in Lebanon – social pressure?
MCS: Students are self-funded so not everyone could travel because they have to show funds in bank accounts etc, we counsel them to help them understand what is a good profile, if not their visa will be refused.
The PIE: In the UK there’s a lot of debate about how many migrants we accept… do you have the same issues in Lebanon?
MCS: Yes, now [people definitely think] we have too many migrants, this is a big problem. We have one million and a half Syrian and more, I don’t know how many, from Iraq also.
The PIE: But a lot of them are actually very well educated aren’t they?
MCS: Yes, but they are well educated, yes. We have many Iraqi students, and they give them visas to go to the UK, because they bring a lot of money, they show good bank accounts…
“They are not refugees. They left their country and came as visitors, if you want, but they want to go overseas, for example for education in the UK”
They are not refugees. They left their country and came as visitors, if you want, but they want to go overseas, for example for education in the UK.
The PIE: So they come from Iraq to Lebanon and then they apply in Lebanon?
MCS: Yes and they apply from the Embassy in Lebanon because maybe the Embassy in Iraq is closed. In Syria also the embassies are closed so everybody applies from Lebanon. We have many, many Syrian clients, but mostly they go to Canada or the USA because they give them visas, the UK don’t give visas at all to Syrians.
The PIE: Interesting. So how many Syrian clients do you think you’ve had in the last 3-4 months?
MCS: We’ve had a lot, maybe 50.
The PIE: Really? And did you have any Syrian clients last year or is it all this year?
MCS: No, no, they are all new this year, because they want to leave their country and they come to Lebanon as a stepping stone and then they want to leave again to go to other countries.
The PIE: Fascinating. And what do they want to study?
MCS: For example, if they study already medicine or business or IT in their country, they want to see if they can transfer, or sometimes if they have their IB they want to go for a pathways programme.
The PIE: And what do you think about Germany, which is accepting many refugees. Do some want to study in Germany?
MCS: No, the [German] Embassy in Lebanon is full, but for refugees, not to go to study. It is full for the appointments, I check for visa appointments, it’s full of Syrians, but all go for refugee status, not as students, they don’t go as students.