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EU fund supports English language chain in Central Asia

When Mongolian language schools owner Purevdash Jalbuu needed funding to expand his small chain of schools into neighbouring Kazakhstan, he reached out to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which was founded by the EU in 1991.

Having spotted a hole in his local market for high-quality English courses for professionals, Jalbuu opened his first school in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaator in 2019, having acquired the national franchise for Wall Street English (WSE), the blended learning specialists.

At first, WSE owners, Barings Private Equity Asia and CITIC Capital, were reluctant to franchise into Mongolia, only agreeing on condition Jalbuu also took on the franchise for Kazakhstan.

When WSE opened in Mongolia, the take up was impressive, with the ‘ambitious’ first year target of 480 enrolments met within months and 800 students enrolled within the first 12 months. Another 800 students signed up in 2020.

Jalbuu was worried, however, by the prospect of opening in Kazakhstan, a market with which he was not familiar, and reached out to the EBRD Advice for Small Businesses programme, which is funded by the EU. They helped him find the best location, Almaty, and identify student preferences. It turned out that, as in Mongolia, the adult market preferred to learn in a physical classroom, at a time of their choosing and with targeted teacher support. The Almaty school is due to open this October.

The EBRD team also advised Jalbuu to expand his business in Mongolia by opening a second school.

“With our number of students, the first Ulaanbaatar branch ranked first in the world among all the WSE franchises

for the past three years. To keep up with the growing demand and develop our business further, we opened a second branch in Ulaanbaatar. This would not have been possible without the support of the EBRD,” he told Khazakh website inform.kz.

The adult language course sector tends to flourish best in new markets. As markets mature and language levels improve, the top end of the adult market tends to contract and can collapse completely in a downturn. WSE China, for example, opened in 2000 and had 71 centres employing 3,000 staff at its peak. Sold back to WSE founder, Luigi Pecenini, in 2019 at a deep discount, it struggled to survive during Covid and closed its doors in August 2021 owing US$15 million.

Image courtesy of PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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