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EL Latin America 2016: Brazilian market evolves

Claudia Civinini asks Belta president Maura de Araujo Leão about the association’s new report shedding light on Brazil’s student mobility

Between 2003 and 2014 the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association (Belta) reported a growth of 600 per cent in the country’s student outbound mobility. However, with Brazil’s economy hit by recession, unemployment and currency depreciation, and cuts to government scholarships such as Science Without Borders, demand has changed over the past couple of years. Recently released 2015 Belta research, reporting on two surveys of 135 education agents and nearly 2,000 students, sheds some light on the situation.

Your report shows that 96 per cent of students still want to learn English, but demand is shifting from general language courses to more specialised programmes. What is driving this shift and what opportunities does this offer student recruiters?

The needs of Brazilians are changing because students are looking for options that add more value to their curricula and afterwards help them find better jobs. For recruiters this is a chance to innovate along with their partners to offer all kinds of combination programmes, allowing them to reach a broader market.

Courses that add more to employability are a trend. Brazilians have a culture not to think about the future, but this is changing and people are planning in advance and starting at an earlier age to organise their first exchange programme abroad.

How would you interpret the 46 per cent reduction in the total amount of products sold by travel agents in 2015 compared to 2014?

In the research 46 per cent of agents said that the Brazilian market has declined. On the other hand, 36 per cent said it has increased and 18 per cent that it has stayed stable in 2015 compared to 2014. For this reason we could say that international education in the Brazilian market has declined an average of 5 per cent. This happened because some agents have searched for new programmes, and others have kept to offering traditional programmes such as regular language courses. As I said before, the needs of Brazilians are changing.

The study shows that personal savings are the biggest financing source. How does this impact on the student recruitment process?

We don’t see the impact in a negative way. The survey shows that Brazilians who go abroad are of a mature age and can afford to pay on their own, and until now have done so. The ones that went with scholarships are not representative of Brazilians who go abroad for courses and exchange programmes.

I see from the Education South Africa website that Belta signed a memorandum of understanding with EduSA, the accredited language schools association of South Africa, in January. Its website noted that there has been an increase in Brazilians going to study in South Africa. Can you give us an update on the trend?

South Africa has everything a student needs to fulfil his or her wishes and dreams of studying abroad. The cost of living is immensely lower than other countries due to its currency, and what the country has to offer to students is also very appealing.

How would you explain the decline of the UK in Brazilian students’ preferences? And what could student recruiters in the UK do to counteract this?

It’s all to do with the cost of living due to the currency. In a country facing a very strong economic crisis, people look for solutions to fulfil their wish to study abroad, and one is to look for countries where the currency is more favourable and which has a fair cost of living. The frequent changes in UK visa policies also bring a lot of uncertainty to agents and students. They have many other options to choose from other than the UK.

Schools in the UK should continue to lobby on behalf of students for visa matters, and offer more affordable prices. There are still many students willing to go to the UK because of the diversity of course options at all levels – language, vacation, training and university programmes – as well as quality.