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The gathering storm?

As governments move to stop the job subsidises, the real damage to international education is likely to be done says Melanie Butler

It feels like the phoney war, that 8-month period after the declaration of the Second World War when everyone waited for the apocalypse and nothing actually happened.

Newspapers throughout the English-speaking world have been full of stories of language schools, colleges, even universities on the brink of bankruptcy, but so far there is nothing much to report.

As in the phoney war, a few battleships have been sunk: the UK-based St Giles group closed its last US school; another Global Village language school in Canada, this time in Calgary, has shut its doors and British Study Centres has gone into administration, a process designed to “help the company repay debts in order to escape insolvency (if possible).”

Even that great Swedish ship of the line, EF, has sustained some damage. Its long-planned sale of its ‘kids and teens’ operations in China and Indonesia has gone through but the price came down a cool half a billion because of the pandemic, according to the FT. But at least the fog of Covid-19 kept the official banning of one of its teachers for sexual impropriety out of the headlines.

Where are the governments in all of this?

New Zealand has come up with NZ $50 million for its international education industry and promised no university will be allowed to go under. But with the country’s borders firmly closed for the rest of 2020, international schools and language schools will struggle to survive.

The UK government is playing pretty with a minister writing a welcome letter to EFL students as language schools slowly begin to open, but there is no money on the table, even, it is rumoured, for the dozen or so Universities at risk of going bust. Meanwhile, as in many countries, the gradual removal of subsidies for furloughed staff mean that job losses are looming and, as EF is finding as it rolls out its long-planned UK redundancies, the unions are gearing up for a fight.

But the prize for damage to international education goes to the US White House for its on-again-off-again assault on student visas aimed, apparently, at saving US jobs from foreign students who have never been allowed to do them.

The phoney war is nearly over and battle is about to begin. Just pray your government is on your side.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.

Image courtesy of 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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