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News and business analysis for Professionals in International Education
Updated: 1 year 2 weeks ago

Coronavirus: Ed tech offers free services

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 09:48

A number of ed tech companies around the world – and the country of Estonia – are offering free services to universities, schools and students to limit the disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Challenges to the international education sector have been unprecedented, with travel bans and school and university closures

Now, edtech companies such as iTeach.world, RAFTR, Aula and Intergreat are offering free remote teaching tools or online platforms to help universities and schools connect with their students. 

And in Estonia – already a digital-embracing nation where e-residency is available – the Ministry of Education & Research announced the country is “humbled to share all of its digital education tools to support other countries’ education systems during the COVID-19 crisis”.

“This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction”

Remote learning has been adopted as a strategy by institutions as they cope with sweeping restrictions put in place by governments who are trying to tackle the virus. 

“We’re here to help in any way we can,” said Jean-Pierre Guittard, CEO and founder of iTeach.world, an ed tech company that offers a modern virtual learning environment to students and teachers. 

“During this transition, we’ll be doing our best to support teachers and schools and to continue to support them with a free online tool.

“I know a lot of other ed tech companies are opening their tools, whether it is curriculum books or online tools that students can use. Everybody’s trying to do their best to pitch in and help out as best they can,” he told The PIE News

The demand for the company’s virtual classroom is high and according to Guittard, iTeach.world has had a 4000% increase in usage over the past two weeks. 

Demand is also being satisfied by companies like Silicon Valley-based higher ed tech company Raftr which is offering its messaging and notifications platform to colleges and universities free of charge through the end of the academic year. 

Raftr’s app is designed to facilitate instant and direct communication between college administrations and their students in a mobile-first platform, including the ability to send direct messages instantly to students’ mobile devices. 

“Raftr can provide universities immediate access to communicate with their students, faculty, staff, and even parents, anywhere in the world,” said Raftr founder and CEO Sue Decker.

Extract of the announcement from Estonia

“It is very fast to implement and designed for interactive, flexible and coordinated communication on a stand-alone basis or to supplement email communication.”

This push of philanthropic activity is a global phenomenon. InterGreat Education Group, a UK-based education agent, is providing free online lessons to Chinese families that want their children taught in English, with an international style of curriculum.

Yinghui Gilbert, director of international partnerships at IEG, told The PIE that the company had developed a free online program which is currently only available in China.

The program is aimed at providing home-based learning for school-aged children between 6 and 16 years of age.

“When we heard the announcement from the Ministry of Education in China, IEG realised that the knock-on effects for this would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available for the students in the vacuum,” she said. 

“IEG realised that the knock-on effects would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available”

The challenges of shifting from a face-to-face model to teaching online have been noted by some organisations.

In fact, Aula’s CEO noted, “We have prepared a (very brief!) quick-start guide to get started with teaching remotely on Aula” as he announced the social learning platform would offer free unlimited licences.

The Republic of Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is offering a range of digital education solutions for free to help educators make the jump into remote teaching. 

Guittard explained that as more people move online, there may also be difficulties with internet access given volume demands.

“The biggest challenge I’m seeing for some students is internet bandwidth. So everybody is being put online but in some countries and some areas, the internet just isn’t what it should be for this type of thing. This is affecting some students and teacher’s experience,” he told The PIE. 

Despite these issues, Guittard said he believes the coronavirus outbreak will show people the importance and value of remote learning. 

“I think what is going to change here is that schools are being forced to make the change that they need to make because in the background there’s been this huge market shift where people have realised that we have these communication tools… This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction.”

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COVID-19: US universities scramble to arrange campus closures

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 07:56

Universities across the US have announced plans to close their campuses, scale back operations and send as many students as possible home in the wake of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country. The latest count by the CDC lists the number of confirmed cases at 3,487.

Harvard University, which currently has two confirmed community members with the coronavirus, was among the earliest to announce its campus would be closing, asking all students to move out of residences by 5pm on March 15.

“Even if I wanted to fly there are just no flights anymore”

Those who believed themselves to be in circumstances that would not allow them to return home were able to petition for the right to stay.

Some students criticised the university’s decision as not giving them enough time to organise moving out, storage, shipping and transport. Those not wishing to return home and unable to stay on campus have had to find alternative accommodation.

“It was very unexpected, but I knew I wasn’t going to be affected by it, just because I wasn’t planning on going back to Italy anyway,” international student Eugene Donati told The Harvard Crimson.

“But now even if I wanted to fly there are just no flights anymore. So if I go, it wouldn’t be possible to come back.”

With airlines operating a reduced number of flights on many routes and many people trying to return to Europe, other students reported having to book flights to neighbouring countries and then find overland routes home.

Harvard is by no means the only university that has decided to close its campus due to COVID-19.

MIT, Princeton and Stanford have all also asked undergraduates to return home. Universities are also trying to offer students financial support for their transport costs.

At Princeton, deputy university spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told The PIE that it had laid out criteria for students who wish to remain on campus that gave priority to certain categories of students, such as those who need to do lab research.

For international students specifically, it included those who are subject to travel restrictions, come from countries with warning levels 2 and 3 and USDOS levels 3 and 4 for COVID-19 or whose home is in “an area with extremely limited internet connectivity”.

“We won’t be able to access Google. We won’t be able to access Gmail”

“The university will continue to support each and every one of our students — both international and domestic — who for one reason or another cannot return home and must remain on campus,” he added.

In addition to making travel arrangements, international students are now also waiting for accommodation refunds and are worried about how the transition to online teaching will affect their academic performance.

“We won’t be able to access Google. We won’t be able to access Gmail,” Jacob Chang, vice president of Ohio State University’s International Student Council, told local press regarding trying to study from China.

“Our US phone number won’t work, so there’s a chance we won’t be able to get Duo Mobile [the service used to log into Ohio State accounts].”

Other students have voiced concerns online that having to attend live lectures will mean studying in the early hours of the morning in their time zone, and that censorship that will prevent them from accessing certain topics. However, universities are trying to address these concerns.

We realise that some of students’ coursework will be significantly hampered by the online teaching format, and the university is helping their instructors accommodate this shift in the best possible way,” explained Hotchkiss at Princeton.

“The office of the dean of the college is studying a variety of strategies that might alleviate the stress for students and faculty, including P/D/F grading options for the whole semester; re-weighting midterm examinations; and other policy adjustments.”

However, while some universities are in a mad rush to shut down as soon as possible, others have taken a different approach.

“Home is not necessarily a better option for students, as they may have to get on an plane or have vulnerable groups [there]”

“Home is not necessarily a better option for students, as they may have to get on a plane or they may have vulnerable groups – older parents grandparents – in the home,” explained UC Berkeley regarding its decision not to close its campus, although on Monday it did say it was “rapidly moving toward a ‘maintenance-only’ mode of physical operation of the campus”, meaning this could soon change.

While UC Berkeley, Arizona State, the University of Utah and others have so far decided to keep campuses open, classes have nevertheless been taken online and events and gatherings have been cancelled.

Over the last few days, several universities have reported new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their communities.

The post COVID-19: US universities scramble to arrange campus closures appeared first on The PIE News.

human​roads raises €1.5m to boost its HE focus

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 03:59

France-based edtech specialists humanroads has just completed its first fundraising round for a total of €1.5 million, which will allow it to significantly accelerate its technological and business deployment among higher and vocational education and training organisations around the world.

A pioneer in applying innovative strategies to deliver content required by international education leaders, lifelong learners, and policymakers, the platform currently offers two digital solutions ­­– humanroads Analytics and the Career GPS – capable of visualising and analysing millions of educational and professional data points.

“[Students and alumni] will be able to access new tools for visualising and analysing educational paths”

humanroads Analytics is a business intelligence tool for institutional leaders and their teams focused on curricular design and employability, while the Career GPS is designed for both students and working people to enable individuals in training, in employment, or in job searches.

Benoît Bonte, president of humanroads said the financial support will allow humanroads to support not only schools and university administrators but also students and alumni.

“In real-time [students and alumni] will be able to access new tools for visualising and analysing educational and professional paths,” said Bonte.

“Institutions will also be able to offer their students a self-paced and discrete opportunity of using this data to clarify the choices available to them as they contemplate further education and/or their careers.”

Although humanroads currently equips some 60 private and public institutions of HE such as NEOMA Business School and more than half of the Polytech Network in France, it is aiming to rapidly multiply its impact in this sector.

The Région Sud Investissement fund (advised by Turenne Groupe), CAAP Création, a subsidiary of Crédit Agricole Alpes Provence, Alumni Business Angels and a group of Parisian business angels have pledged their support to advance humanroads’ ambitions.

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75% of staff cannot detect fake certificate

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 02:58

Only one in four university admissions staff feel confident spotting fake qualification documents without assistance, a survey by the UK’s national qualifications agency UK NARIC has revealed, as the organisation pledges to ramp up efforts to identify fraudulent certificates.

Responses from 17 countries showed that institutions spend varying amounts of effort verifying documents.

While 62% said they conduct their own verifications direct with awarding institutions, 14% of institutions said that, in general, they “don’t verify overseas qualification documents at all”.

Other respondents said they verify documents only in cases which raise concern or doubt.

“One of the interesting things in the survey is that it shows a range of approaches to qualification checking in the institutions,” Steve Miller, head of Communications and Global Partnerships for UK NARIC told The PIE News.

“Some institutions reduce the risk by not accepting applications from high-risk countries”

The survey found that some institutions rely on examining hard-copy qualification documents, while others use online verification methods.

“Some admissions teams seem to be confident about checking and verifying qualifications themselves and are building that into their processes. But some staff are maybe not so sure that they can spot a fake certificate with certainty,” Miller continued.

According to UK NARIC, verifying international qualifications and dealing with fake certificates and fraudulent applications is a growing problem the organisation is working to counteract.

“We have an online certificate bank, with thousands of scanned images of certificates and transcripts, that can be used to compare and check applicants’ documents. We also offer training on fraud detection,” Miller added.

In 2017, UK NARIC launched an initiative to combat fraud in academic credentials via an agreement with The DataFlow Group.

Additionally, its Qualification Checked At Source verification service gives a “definitive confirmation that a qualification is genuine”.

UK NARIC is also concerned that verification worries mean that international students from some countries are missing out on study places.

“Some institutions reduce the risk by not accepting applications from high-risk countries. That is one way to reduce the risks of this. But you are limiting your markets if you take that approach,” Miller said.

He said that by putting greater focus on verification, institutions may be able to “open up to applications from those markets, while still controlling and managing the risk”.

“Diversifying your markets is an important factor at the moment. Better approaches to verification can help to support a diversification strategy,” Miller added.

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India: institutions opt for virtual classes

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 11:06

A number of schools and higher education institutions across India have been forced to shut their campuses, suspend classes, cancel or postpone exams and events such as convocations, college festivals and exchange programs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The University Grants Commission, the country’s apex higher education regulatory body, has directed all universities and their affiliated colleges to follow a set of guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Human lives are more important than some delays”

“Universities and colleges have been advised to avoid large gatherings on campus. Any staff member or student with a recent travel history to any of the coronavirus-affected countries, or in contact with such persons in the last 28 days, should be monitored and home quarantined for 14 days,” explained the letter issued by the UGC to vice-chancellors of all universities.

They have also been asked to follow hand and respiratory hygiene measures, with campuses of all universities being sanitized and cleaned on a daily basis.

Hostel students at some institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi were asked to vacate the premises by March 15, while a lot of college hostels are also vacant with students refraining from returning till the end of the month.

Many state governments have also sprung into action and have directed that schools and/or colleges be closed until March 31. These include Punjab, Odisha, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.

Several exchange programs with foreign universities in COVID-19 affected countries and Indian universities will also be impacted.

With several cases that have been detected in India, the country has suspended all visas until April 15. The government has advised all Indians to avoid non-essential travel abroad.

Universities and institutions such as University of Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi have suspended classes till March 31.

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, one of the country’s top B-schools, has deferred its annual convocation ceremony which was to be held on March 21.

“The decision has been taken to preclude any health risks to students and their families and friends, faculty and employees of the institute,” said a spokesperson from the institute.

Every institute will follow the guidelines issued by the respective state governments and in case of Central institutions, also those issued by the Centre.

Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, said: “We are acting in accordance. As and when we get further instructions, we will implement them. We are also rigorously implementing the medical precautions suggested by the state health department.”

Officials said deferring and cancelling exams and classes will impact the academic calendar of institutions.

“This will delay the calendar by a few weeks and is necessary under the given circumstances to control the outbreak. After all, human lives are more important than some delays,” Anil Sahasrabudhe, chairman, All-India Council for Technical Education, told The PIE News.

The AICTE is the statutory body and a national-level council for technical education, under the Department of Higher Education, ministry of human resource development, the government of India.

Cancellation of events may lead to financial and other losses too.

“If tickets booked are cancelled, there would be some losses financially to individuals and organisations. But this is a price worth paying at this time of an emergency,” said Sahasrabudhe, adding that it is tough to quantify financial losses at this stage.

Institutions are considering online classes to help students. “The teachers will make study material available online to students. Internal assessment will also be done online until the pandemic is contained,” said AP Siddiqui, registrar, Jamia Millia Islamia.

“Teachers will be available as per schedule online through e-resources”

The University of Delhi, another top Central university, has also decided to offer online classes.

“To maintain continuity in the teaching-learning process in all undergraduate and postgraduate programs, the study material will be available weekly on the university website by teachers from all departments, faculties and centres of the university.

“Teachers will be available as per schedule online through e-resources,” said the University of Delhi registrar in a statement.

Many other universities and institutions are following suit and resorting to virtual teaching full-time, including private universities and institutes.

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US: more HEIs accepting the Duolingo English Test amid uncertainty

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 06:57

With the suspension of traditional English proficiency tests in countries most affected by the coronavirus, a wave of US institutions are now accepting the results of the Duolingo English Test, either as stand-alone proof or as a supplement to other measures of English-language proficiency.

Unlike traditional tests, which require students to travel to proctored sites to take them, the DET can be taken anywhere in the world.

“We started looking at alternatives, and the DET – with its ability to be taken at home – rose to the top”

Considered by some to be a “disruptor” to the traditional testing field, the jump in both test-users and institutions comes at the same time that the agencies offering the TOEFL and IELTS announced that they would suspend exams in the countries affected by the coronavirus through the end of March.

As of December 2019, more than 600 US colleges and universities were working with Duolingo. By late February, that number had surged to more than 1,000, Jennifer Dewar, head of Strategic Engagement for the DET, told The PIE News.

Meanwhile, the number of Chinese DET takers jumped by 180% in February alone, according to Dewar.

China sends the greatest number of international students to the US of any other country, and it was one of the first to be affected by English test suspensions as the coronavirus spread rapidly.

“We already had a decent amount of traction among institutions, but with the closure of traditional test centres there does seem to be a sense of urgency from universities to move to accept the Duolingo English Test,” Dewar said.

Ryan Griffin, director of the Office of International Admissions at the University of Missouri, said that his institution would provisionally accept the test after the suspension of the traditional tests prompted his institution to review how many students in the current application cycle were still planning to submit proof of English proficiency.

While many students had already submitted results, some had been planning to wait until February or March.

“We started looking at alternatives, and the Duolingo English Test – with its ability to be taken at home – rose to the top,” Griffin told The PIE.

“We didn’t want to have that be a limiting factor for students who had already gone through the steps of applying and submitting the other documents required,” he added.

Another institution, Indiana University Bloomington,  had already decided to fully accept the test in the upcoming fall term but chose to make it available to prospective students a semester earlier due to the suspension of the traditional exams.

At IU Bloomington, the DET will now be accepted as stand-alone proof of English language proficiency at the undergraduate level.

Previously, the university had been using the DET as a supplementary tool while requiring students to meet one of a range of other English proficiency standards, such as three years of education at a US-based high school, certain English language curricula, or certain SAT or ACT thresholds, among other alternatives.

“For us, the decision was a little easier because we already were accepting the DET and already had been for two years as a supplemental evidentiary exam for English proficiency,” John Wilkerson, Assistant Vice President for International Services, told The PIE.

In past admissions cycles, the DET was particularly popular among students who hailed from countries with more limited access to traditional test centres, Wilkerson said.

Many early IU Bloomington DET test takers came from countries in Africa, Central America or Asian countries including Mongolia.

Wilkerson said that IU Bloomington was confident about adding the DET to its admissions repertoire.

“Very intentionally, we spent the last two years gathering our own institutional data to evaluate how our students were actually performing,” Wilkerson continued.

“We were seeing similar success rates for students who were taking the Duolingo English Test as we were from TOEFL and IELTS.”

While there has been a surge in institutions accepting the DET for now, given the complications that have arisen as a result of the coronavirus, whether this will spur ongoing use of the DET by some of the institutions now using it remains to be seen.

Griffin told The PIE that it is still too early to say whether the DET will remain a core part of the University of Missouri’s admissions arsenal.

“We’re still in the fog of COVID-19 and everything else that we’re having to deal with,” he said.

“We were seeing similar success rates for students… as we were from TOEFL and IELTS”

“Once we’ve moved past this particular moment, we will be able to look back and see.”

One promising sign for the DET, he added, is that the more institutions adopt it, the larger the data set will be to understand its effectiveness relative to other English language tests.

“For a new test coming online, that’s always one of the more difficult elements,” Griffin said.

“If you don’t have the data and scholarly research behind it, it’s difficult to present to the faculty council – or whoever may be the governing body on a school campus may be.”

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COVID-19: Time For The Pace Car

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 06:24

Formula 1 fans know about the pace car.  There is an accident on the track, pieces of a race car are littered all over the place, guys in white jumpsuits pop onto the road and frantically start cleaning up and the pace car comes on.

While the pace car is on the track the race cars must stay behind the pace car and can not overtake each other.  If you had a 5 second lead (an eternity in Formula 1) that lead has now diminished to nothing as your nearest competitor is just behind you.  Many pole positions have been won and lost because the impact of the dreaded pace car.

This has happened to the education sector to varying degrees because of COVID-19.

This latest coronavirus has halted student recruiting in many segments of the education sector.  For example, English language programs and other short courses which recruit on a weekly or monthly basis now have months of postponed students waiting to enrol and when COVID-19 fades as a threat (i.e., when the pace car comes off the road and the race begins again) this pent up demand will flood the market in one shot.

Market leaders have the most to lose as there are far more customers up for grabs at one point in time while, conversely, market followers have the most to gain as they have more “shots at goal” (to switch sports analogies) than ever before.

There are any number of tactics that would benefit market leaders and followers and their suitability needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

What is clear is that a “business as usual” approach when COVID-19 fades means missing a chance to overtake the car in front.

Karan Khemka is an occasional columnist for The PIE: He was partner and head of the international education practice at Parthenon-EY for 16 years and now serves on boards at global education companies.

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NZ: visa refusals for Indian students up 10%

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 02:20

Data from Immigration New Zealand has revealed a 10% increase in study visa refusal rates for would-be Indian students between July 2019 and February 2020, with 26% of the 17,621 applications made being turned down.

Visa acceptance rates for Indian students increased from 62% in 2015/16 to 84% in 2018/19. The overall rate for all nationalities was 85% and 88.6% respectively.

“[Providers should] work in coordination with the government to understand the changes”

By contrast, Australian acceptance rates for Indian students have experienced less variation, having stayed between 74.7% and 82% since 2015/16.

Industry insiders have different interpretations of what these latest statistics show, but generally speaking, the increase in denials is attributed to the country’s International Education Strategy 2018-2030.

Keri Ramirez of Studymove told The PIE News that the results are likely a result of new measures to ensure students are “genuine entrants looking to gain a quality education”, which comes under one of the main pillars of the country’s strategy.

“My understanding is that the eight New Zealand universities worked closely with the government to understand the new measures and avoid disruptions in their recruitment efforts,” he said, adding that he encourages other sectors and private providers to “work in coordination with the government to understand the changes”.

Data also published by Immigration New Zealand on agents markets in India also shows just how significant the agent a student chooses to work with can be in terms of visa success rates.

Some 39 of the listed agencies had success rates of less than 50%. As a result of this, a student using an agent was less likely to get a visa than the overall average.

Meeting financial requirements can be a struggle for some students and immigration officers have noted applications using “crowd-funding”.

This entails students listing multiple sources of funds to support their studies – sometimes as many as sixty – which leads to questions as to whether this money is truly available to them.

“New Zealand’s international education strategy focuses on delivering a high-quality education and great experience for students, truly sustainable growth for the sector and embedding the benefits of global citizenship for New Zealanders,” Grant McPherson, chief executive of Education New Zealand, told The PIE.

“We want incoming students to meet the financial, academic and language requirements they need to ensure their well-being and to help them succeed.” 

Earlier this year New Zealand reported a 9.8% growth in international students in 2018 compared to the previous year. However, the number of Indians issued student visas has declined from 21,871 in 2015/16 to 15,826 in 2018/19.

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COVID-19: Ireland closes schools and colleges

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 10:46

Schools and colleges across the Republic of Ireland have been shut until March 29 in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The government announced the measures on March 12 after the total number of cases in the country rose to 70 and the first death linked to the virus was reported. 

In addition to the announcement, the government confirmed that where an English language school has closed due to government advice regarding COVID-19, “all international students will be considered to have met their attendance requirement for the shutdown period”.

“The safety of students and staff is paramount”

David Russell, chairman of PCN– an organisation representing eight English language training centres in Ireland – told The PIE News that despite ongoing concern about the financial impact that coronavirus will have, many ELT schools have expressed their support for the measures.

“Obviously the ongoing COVID-19 situation is challenging and worrying for everybody. While the Irish government’s announcement of the closure of schools offers challenges to employers, most people see the rationale behind this step as a reasonable one,” he said.  

Russell added that a temporary closure of school doors, with a view to curbing the spread of the virus, “makes sense”. 

“Having said that, schools are obviously worried about the future and how this whole situation may impact on sales and future trading,” he added. 

Russell explained that the closures impacts company revenue and cash flow, which in turn can have an impact on the ability to maintain staff and pay salaries. 

“Nobody wants to let staff go, this would be a worst-case scenario. I feel it is imperative that the government support employers at this challenging time.”

Rob McComish and Anne-Marie Connolly, company directors at Everest Language School in Dublin, told The PIE they were ‘glad’ when they heard that schools had been ordered to shut. 

Everest has been offering all of its classes online using video conferencing since the evening of March 12. The school has had near full attendance in every class. 

“We have had contingency plans in place as the decision to close the schools was something that we have known was a possibility for the past three weeks so we have been preparing to implement this solution to ensure that our students can continue their lessons,” the directors explained.

“The cooperation of the students and staff has been key in our ability to make the switch to online classes as quickly as has been necessary. Everybody was incredibly understanding,” they added.

Despite Everest having been well prepared, coronavirus has still caused the school problems. 

McComish and Connolly explained that they are already experiencing cancellations from affected areas and are doing their best to keep student numbers up. 

Education agencies too are feeling the financial ripple effect of the closures.

Director of Turkish agency Global Vizyon, Deniz Akar told The PIE that a number of students have been looking to postpone or cancel their summer programs in Ireland.

“For the time being the flight companies don’t create problems – they either refund the money or give credit for the next flight. The schools are not creating problems – they are okay with the postponement. The problem is some students don’t want to postpone, they want to cancel totally,” he said.

However, changes to bookings for Ireland aren’t throwing up as many problems as some other destinations, Akar continued.

“In Malta, there are not many cases [of coronavirus] but because of the proximity to Italy it is very difficult to convince the students to go,” he added.”Ireland students are quite okay to postpone to May.”

Universities in Ireland have also been closed, with many continuing to operate but online.

Even prior to the government’s announcement, Trinity College Dublin stated that it would be moving all lectures online from March 11.

According to reports, the university which exhibits the world-famous ‘Book of Kells’ could lose at least €3 million following the closure of the exhibition.

“Colleagues across the university have been preparing diligently for this eventuality”

Another Dublin based university, DCU, is starting online delivery of its academic taught programs from March 16, while all first and second-year undergraduate examinations planned for May will be replaced with alternative assessments.

Despite the disruption, DCU president, Brian MacCraith said he welcomed the announcement of the government.

“The safety and well-being of our students and staff have been, and will remain, our priority,” MacCraith said.

“Colleagues across the university have been preparing diligently for this eventuality for a number of weeks and strong contingency plans are in place. 

“We are in a good position to move our teaching and assessment activities online,” he added.

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UC Davis dining facility celebrates diversity

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 06:40

The University of California has built a $34 million dining facility that offers international dishes from Indian shrimp curry to Tuscan kale and white bean soup in a bid to celebrate diversity and make overseas students “feel more at home”. 

Latitude Restaurant is situated on UC Davis, one of the University of California’s 10 campuses. It was opened in January this year after a 24 month building period. 

“We want to give our students that sense of comfort”

So far, the facility has provided a total of 300 dishes from regions around the world including Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia. 

Director of dining services for the university, Kraig Brady explained that Latitude was designed to celebrate the diverse culture of its campus community. 

“My idea was to find out how I make somebody from abroad feel more at home,” Brady told The PIE News

“Sometimes having something familiar makes you more comfortable and being from a different country a lot of our food that we serve is simply different from what international students are used to. 

So we thought that if we could offer them something more familiar it might make them more comfortable.”

Latitude has added 500 additional seats to student dining facilities and caters for a campus community that represents students from 113 countries. 

Brady explained that his team believed the comfort of students relates to how well they do in school and how much stress they experience in their lives. 

This idea that the familiarity of food might contribute to the wellbeing of international students has been explored by academics. 

Masters student, Erika Stewin, who undertook research on “food insecurity“ issues among international students at two Canadian universities. 

Stewin found that “many students described experiencing food insecurity, students related feelings of depression, homesickness and identity loss, hunger, difficulties with weight loss or weight gain, and stories of being forced to compromise religious beliefs in order to eat.”

Brady told The PIE that the dining services team also wanted to offer new cuisines to students who weren’t familiar with other people’s culture. 

“We thought this might help them bridge the gap and build food as the centrepiece to build community within our campus,” he said. 

So far the dining facility has been very well received. Students have the ability to text real-time feedback and, according to Brady, so far the response has had nothing but complimentary. 

“We had one student reply saying that she was brought to tears by tasting something that reminded her of the holidays back home. 

“To me, that was what all this is about. We want to give our students that sense of comfort,” he said. 

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Malta ELT sector facing million euro losses

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 06:31

ELT schools in Malta are facing a loss of millions of euros due to the coronavirus outbreak, an impact assessment has found. However, stakeholders in the country fear losses will increase as the situation worsens.

According to the report carried out by Deloitte, the current level of cancellations at the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations (FELTOM) schools are resulting in an estimated monthly financial loss of €1.4million. It is estimated that the cost to Malta’s economy is €3.4m per month. 

“Working together we will go through it and it will pass”

However, since March 5 when the report was completed, Malta has banned all travel with Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland – meaning the impact on ELT schools will be even greater.  

“Due to the fact that there was a specific ban on Italy and France regarding education travel, which are some of the largest economies [for ELT schools in Malta], there was a lot of turmoil for our schools,” James Perry, CEO of FELTOM, told The PIE News. 

“We asked Deloitte to create an impact assessment into the effect on the schools and on the economy, in the hope of going to our government and asking for assistance.”

The survey cited that FELTOM schools, which represent 85% of the total ELT industry in Malta, generated a gross operating profit of €11m in 2018. 

However, the cancellation rate in March and April 2019 for ELT schools was in excess of 40%. The survey also noted a progressive slow down in booking pace which has already reached 45%. 

The result of these cancellations could be the loss of millions of euros, the survey concluded.

Deloitte estimated that the cancellation of 4,000 arrivals will result in monthly financial losses of €1.4m to FELTOM schools. This figure will increase to €2.1m with cancellations of around 6,000. 

“Unfortunately the impact assessment is already outdated because since we did the report, there have been further closures, of airports, of flights,” Perry said. 

“The Maltese government is taking quite drastic measures…so the impact assessment, while it was extremely valid, is outdated because the numbers [of cancellations] are much higher than reported.”

Some language schools in Malta have temporarily closed because of coronavirus; The PIE has learned that LAL Language Centres’s Sliema school is closed until March 20. 

In 2017, Malta’s ELT schools recorded historic increases in enrolments – highs that FELTOM sought to stabilise in 2019.

FELTOM is hoping for funding and tax moratoriums from the Maltese government to help keep ELT schools afloat amid the pandemic.

“Working together we will go through it and it will pass”

Perry explained that it is also crucial that ELT schools keep positive. 

“We have to understand that this is a virus and this will pass and once it passes, we should not be afraid to travel,” he said. 

“It’s not the first time there has been something similar to this in the world and we always manage to survive it. 

“This is the most important thing to keep in mind – working together we will go through it and it will pass,” he added.

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Gaming startup Wibbu partners with Cambridge

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 04:52

Education gaming startup Wibbu has announced a partnership with Cambridge Assessment English and Cambridge University Press to see the development of a blended-learning game-based English course for children who are preparing for the Cambridge A2 Flyers exam.

“We see this as a momentous step, not only for our company but for the entire education industry”

FUN with Ruby Rei launches this month for schools in Spain and Mexico after a successful Beta launch in Turkey in August 2019 that saw 2,500 students join the platform.

The product has taken the name FUN with Ruby Rei to sit within Cambridge’s existing line of FUN products for young learners.

Shortly after the launch of Wibbu’s consumer language-learning mobile game Ruby Rei, former director of Digital for Cambridge Assessment English Geoff Stead approached Wibbu to discuss and subsequently formalise the partnership.

“We see this as a momentous step, not only for our company but for the entire education industry, that a world leader in English language teaching is publishing a game-based course for schools,” Wibbu CEO Dean Jacobs explained.

“We could see this trend in consumer desire six years ago when we first founded Wibbu, and it’s great to see it being introduced in classrooms, providing maximum impact.”

Head of Digital Partnerships at Cambridge Assessment English, Belinda Cerdá, added that there were clear synergies between Wibbu’s ambitions and the areas CAE were interested in exploring.

“All the teachers we have met who are using FUN with Ruby Rei, have said that their children just want to keep learning. It’s so satisfying to see the positive impact it is already having on language learners and their relationship with English.”

In 2020, it is expected FUN with Ruby Rei will reach more than 10,000 primary school learners.

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“Safety first” say European educators as Trump announces travel ban

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 10:59

US president Donald Trump’s announcement that travel for non-US nationals from 26 Schengen Area countries will be suspended for 30 days has been largely accepted by sector stakeholders in Europe as a means to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The suspension is due to come into effect at midnight EDT on March 13.

According to the US administration, as of March 9, the Schengen Area had “exported” 201 COVID-19 cases to 53 countries. Limiting the restrictions to the Schengen Area allows some notable exceptions across Europe, including the UK, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Turkey, and Ukraine.

“The free flow of people between the Schengen Area countries makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult,” Trump said.

“We have to accept measures aimed at containing the pandemic”

The US government is “unable to effectively evaluate and monitor” all travellers arriving from the Schengen Area and undetected coronavirus transmission threatens the security of US transportation, infrastructure and the nation, the president added.

But despite the measures hindering international scientific cooperation, president of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Joybrato Mukherjee said that safety comes first.

“In this bleak situation, we have to be clear about one thing: We have to accept measures aimed at containing the pandemic, whether it be the closure of borders, a break in international air traffic or the cancellations of international conferences and meetings.” Mukherjee said.

“Nevertheless, we hope that closing the US border for students and scientists from Europe will only be a temporary measure.”

Mukherjee added that DAAD is contacting currently contacting German grant-holders who were looking to start their exchange semester in the US to “find flexible solutions for this challenge”.

In the Netherlands, Nuffic spokesperson Jeroen Wienen said the travel bans will affect student and research mobility to the US.

“It is difficult to determine what this decision will mean for future, long term student mobility,” he said.

“We see that conferences are cancelled or postponed, and in some cases organisers are doing their best to offer digital alternatives, reducing the need to travel and bring large groups of people together. Safety should come first.”

Wienen explained that Dutch immigration and naturalisation service is looking into situations where international students are experiencing problems with their right of residence due to travel bans.

EAIE president Sabine Pendl added that short term study will “clearly see an impact”.

“This semester for sure will leave open wounds at institutions around the world,” Pendl told The PIE News.

“This semester for sure will leave open wounds at institutions around the world”

She added that it now depends on the further development of the pandemic in terms of when educators will be able to go back to ‘normal’.

US students in Europe have already been asked by their home institutions to return home, but in some cases, students had chosen to stay on the continent and “focus on their international experience by following local societal and health instructions”, Pendl continued.

“The EAIE is set to release a report in the coming days revealing the extent of the coronavirus impact and what institutions are concerned about moving forward.”

Sweden-based STS Education “should be okay”, its CEO John Cedergårdh said – as long as the ban is waived after 30 days.

It is “too early to fully determine the impact” of the US move, he added.

“So far though we have not seen the end of this virus outbreak. Naturally, we are worried about the impact on our future sales if the situation doesn’t improve.”

STS continues to focus on keeping its employees safe, Cedergårdh added, as well as ensuring customers are not taking a financial risk if they are booking with the company.

“Most customers seem to trust that this will be over in six months and we have not seen a large wave of cancellations,” he explained.

According to president & CEO of InterExchange Christine La Monica-Lunn said she expects cancellations and delays “as the full impact of this global situation unfolds”.

“For those who have not yet arrived to start programs, timing will be the biggest factor.

“For those on their programs, it’s about providing support should they fall ill or have their placements cut short,” she said, adding that InterExchange has made immediate contingency plans due to the suspension of entry for travellers from certain countries.

“We need to take this day-by-day…and most importantly, stay hopeful”

“We are bracing for similar reciprocal restrictions to be enacted for American travellers but for the time being we have halted all non-essential business travel and won’t be attending some of the conferences we had hoped to be at both in the US and abroad,” she said

“We need to take this day-by-day, keep the wellbeing of our participants, staff and hosts at the forefront of all business decisions, and most importantly, stay hopeful.”

Acting secretary of United States Department of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf said that the US move will “keep Americans safe and save American lives”.

Travel restrictions in January and February for individuals who had been in China and Iran had “proved to be effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus to the US”, Wolf continued.

US passengers that have been in the Schengen Area will have to travel through select airports that have implemented enhanced screening procedures.

“While these new travel restrictions will be disruptive to some travellers, this decisive action is needed to protect the American public from further exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus,” he said.

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AKU & Columbia U announce dual master’s degree

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 07:16

Columbia University’s Middle East Institute in New York and the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London have signed an agreement at Columbia University to mark the launch of their dual master’s degree.

The unique degree brings together two of the world’s leading universities and gives students the opportunity to study a topic of global significance while based in London and New York.

“At this moment in history, such an endeavour is especially important”

Columbia University and AKU have jointly developed an advanced curriculum for the program that includes a two-and-a-half-year sequence of reading and research seminars, interdisciplinary electives, and intensive foreign language training.

Students will benefit from new cross-disciplinary frameworks and tools to understand Muslim cultures in a comparative and world-historical context, equipping them to engage creatively and critically with the opportunities and challenges faced by Muslim societies today.

“This partnership will foster the development of the theoretical and practical perspectives needed to understand how Muslim societies are responding to pressing global challenges,” said Ira Katznelson, Columbia University’s interim provost and Ruggles professor of Political Science and History.

“At this moment in history, such an endeavour is especially important.”

Carl Amrhein, AKU’s provost and vice president, Academic, remarked that the world was changing at breakneck speed, and more than ever there was an urgent need to educate our future leaders to have a deep and nuanced understanding of issues that relate to Muslim civilisations.

“This master’s degree will shape our students into professionals who can offer society clear and thoughtful insight and guidance on important and complex issues facing this generation,” he said.

At the event, dean of ISMC, Leif Stenberg, said that the partnership between “two of the greatest authorities on Muslim civilisations” represents the importance of offering broad and in-depth academic experience in this area.

“Each institution brings its own history and unique perspective to bear, and students will benefit from studying in two of the world’s greatest and inclusive cities.

“This program will challenge and guide our students to develop critical thinking research and leadership skills which will help them make a positive contribution in a wide range of vocations,” he added.

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UK: Home Office confirms no action against self-isolating students

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 04:35

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to upend study plans for international students across the globe, international students at UK institutions have called for measures including relaxed attendance monitoring and a move to online course delivery to ease some of the concerns students might have.

A group of over 100 international students sent a petition to the UK Home Office last week voicing fears over having their visas terminated due to self-isolating – because of attendance rules attached to visa conditions.

However, the Home Office has confirmed to The PIE News it had put measures in place regarding visas and attendance since February.

“Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies are for sponsors to make”

It states on the website that “decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies are for sponsors to make” and that they won’t take “any compliance action against students who are unable to attend their studies due to the coronavirus outbreak”.

Advisory body UKCISA noted that it had received 37 calls since 22 January concerning coronavirus “but many of these preceded the updated UKVI guidance on visa conditions”. 

The student petition also pushed for the “video recording [of] all classes” and to “consider students’ online attendance equal to physical attendance”.

The London School of Economics will be the first UK university to move all teaching for undergraduate and postgraduate students online later this month, while other institutions have spoken out about the impact that a complete shut down would have should the outbreak worsen.

Speaking with The Guardian, an unnamed vice-chancellor of a Russell Group university said that a complete shutdown of their institution would be impossible as students would be left with nowhere to go.

“We couldn’t fully close. What do you do with thousands of international students who can’t go home?” they said, adding that their university would provide free accommodation for international students who were stranded, even if the UK government told them to shut.

“We couldn’t fully close. What do you do with thousands of international students who can’t go home?”

According to several reports, international students – particularly those from Asian countries – also continue to be worried that wearing surgical masks in public will put them at risk of abuse and harassment.

Wearing masks to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses is common in many Asian countries as a prevention method that limits the spread of respiratory diseases.

“I have heard a few cases of Asian students being attacked. One of the cases involved someone I knew from the University of Manchester,” said an undergraduate from Malaysia studying accounting and finance, who was introduced to The PIE through the city’s International Society.

“It is worrying that these attackers target Asians… and it also shows the lack of public education of the situation now in the UK about the cause of the spread of the virus.”

Marlon Zeyuan Meng, the head of Coventry University’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association chapter, told The PIE that its members also had worries about wearing masks in public but that his university was attempting to promote greater public understanding of the motivations of mask wearers.

“We are very happy to see that Coventry University has responded positively to this issue. It was the first to release information explaining the cultural differences with regards to masks,” he said, adding that the university plans to release a short video on the matter.

He also highlighted several other concerns international students had. “It is really important that there is as little disruption as possible to students’ learning and so we need to have measures in place so that students feel comfortable staying in the UK,” he added.

“A key part of that is to relax attendance monitoring and also for UK universities to quickly move to more online delivery.”

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just the Chinese students or the SE Asian community that feeling worried about the Coronavirus,” Jackie Yip, president of the student union at Cardiff University, told The PIE.

“Students have every right to feel worried. This is a scary thing, especially when the media heightens everything up. We want to assure students that it’s still safe to go to lectures, it’s still safe to gather and we are following the guidance from Public Housing Wales.”

“It is really important that there is as little disruption as possible to students’ learning”

Student unions reported that they were keen for lessons to continue as normally as possible unless government advice changed.

Hina, an exchange student from Japan also at the University of Manchester, noted that with only a couple of months left in the country, she wanted to be able to take lectures and tutorials as usual.

“But I also know some of my friends don’t want to go to lecture halls that lots of people gather in,” she added.

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Edvisor and Book&Learn announce merger

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 03:11

Edvisor and Book&Learn – both software providers that offer agencies course search, quoting and booking tools – have announced that they will be merging, bringing more than 7,500 agency users and 1,500 schools together.

Vancouver-based Edvisor told The PIE News that Book&Learn technology will be integrated into the new Edvisor for Agents platform and combine the best features of each product.

“We’re aiming to unite the industry onto a single platform”

Edvisor for Schools will be used to complement and power the new and expanded agency network.

“This is an exciting day for us,” said Nicolas Miller, CEO of Edvisor.

“[We] have always shared the same vision for the industry. Today we’re taking a monumental step forward in making that vision a reality.”

Edvisor first launched its online platform in 2014 modelled on the standardised platforms used in the travel industry to connect agents and language schools.

Book&Learn launched the earlier incarnation of its product the following year before partnering up with Edvisor in 2018 to create a single channel linking up schools and agents.

“We’re aiming to unite the industry onto a single platform in order to drive away inefficiencies and increase profitability for schools and agents,” added CEO of Book&Learn, Gregorio Nieto.

According to the company, the merger will create the world’s largest agency network, spanning across fifty countries and including 80% of agencies in Latin America and Brazil.

It said that in 2019, the agencies in the network generated 1.5 million quotes for students combined.

“We have been using the Edvisor platform actively since 2016, and we believe that this system offers tremendous benefits to both schools and agents,” explained Robin Adams, president of CES North America.

“It has allowed our sales staff to support agents with real-time pricing and accurate information, and has improved our sales process significantly.”

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Capital English Solutions Toronto rebrands

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 08:16

Canada’s Capital English Solutions Toronto has announced it will be changing its name to Mentora Language Academy Toronto this month, and has opened a new career college, Mentora College of Business & Technology.

According to the company, the switch to the more internationally-recognised Mentora brand is an effort to align the Toronto presence more closely with BAU Global’s Mentora Language centres, located throughout the world, including Washington DCBerlin, and Istanbul.

Established in Toronto in 2012, CES Toronto has been a brand known for its high standards in quality English language training for students worldwide.

“Our main goal is to provide international students with enriched English language instruction”

According to a statement from the language academy, the rebranding will include a logo and name change, but its “advanced curriculum, quality education and fun social activities will stay as they always have”.

CES Toronto executive director of Operations, Emrah K. Oyman, is leading the rebranding effort and said he is looking forward to the future.

“Our main goal at Mentora Language Academy is to provide international students with enriched English language instruction, and the skills to thrive in academic and social settings,” Oyman added.

 

As part of the new brand, the Toronto location has also opened a new career college, Mentora College of Business & Technology.

As the newest addition to the BAU Global brand – an international network of universities, colleges and language schools spread over three continents and eight countries – having access to this worldwide academic community gives students in Toronto richer experiences during their programs and more opportunities after graduation.

Currently accepting students for 2020, the career college offers diplomas in Business Administration Management and Hotel Management.

Both diplomas feature a work placement, allowing students to receive on-the-job training.

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Rupesh Singh, CEO, Education Centre of Australia

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 05:31
Rupesh Singh couldn’t get a loan from a bank in India to fulfil his dream to study in Australia. But he was determined to get there, and when he did, it started a journey that has seen him build a small business into a large multinational education company. He talks to The PIE about his authentic insight into how to ensure international students succeed.

 

The PIE: We’d love to know a bit about how you became such a successful entrepreneur…

Rupesh Singh: I come from a very small city in India called Varanasi. It’s considered a holy city, with a lot of spirituality, music and meditation. It has a very humble culture. Wages are low, life is simple, and most people make around $200 a month. Very few people from my city have had the opportunity to go overseas.

My first job was as a fire & safety officer with Oil and natural gas corporation (ONGC). I was one of only eight candidates selected for the training from the All India entrance exam. It was my first job, and I learnt a lot of life lessons because I was challenged every day. I was then headhunted by Essar Group, a very large oil, steel, telecommunications company. During that time my friend and I attended an event hosted by Wollongong University where we both were given on-the-spot admission to study in Australia. I just couldn’t believe it.

The PIE: That must have been very exciting..

RS: My friend was from Gujarat. The banking system in Gujarat was very straightforward. He was able to secure an education loan fairly easily. In my small city, people are very conservative, especially about money. I went to see the local bank manager, of the State Bank of India branch, and he told me ‘No, you won’t do well, and you’ll ruin your dad’s savings’. Basically I had no chance of a loan.

The PIE: Wow.

“I went to see the local bank manager, and he told me ‘No, you won’t do well, and you’ll ruin your dad’s savings'”

RS:  My friend and I then went to see the vice president of my company. India is a bureaucratic country, as you know. We needed an appointment and we got an appointment, after 15 days (because there were 15,000 employees in that company). We went to see him and asked for a sponsorship to study IT in Australia. He just looked at us strangely and refused.

Around that time, we had heard stories about the generosity of Shashi Ruia. He was probably one of the 10 richest people in India. One morning, after finishing the night shift, we took a train to Mumbai and went to his office where we asked his secretary if we could meet him. And she basically just laughed at us.

We waited all day, then travelled back to work, did another night shift and next morning we were again at his office and again we were refused. We were told that ‘he has meetings’. This was repeated for a third and a fourth morning. There was no sleep for three nights. On the fourth refusal, we decided to visit Mr Ruia’s house the next morning. We were there at 06:00 and left a little note and we went for a coffee. When we came back, his security said ‘he wants to meet you’.

The PIE: This is an incredible story.. 

RS: He was amazing. Really nice. And within three hours, he gave us both a sponsorship, telling us to go and study in Australia and come back and work for him. So we applied and we got the visa and we came to Australia.

So he did that for me and I continue to be extremely grateful.

The PIE: And how did you find life in Australia?

RS: In the beginning it was very tough. During that time there was a recession in Australia, many companies were closing. I literally went to door-to-door in Wollongong looking for a job because shops were not hiring– no one hiring at all. I tried for work in a petrol station, a car wash, you name it. Then I started going to every house, asking ‘can I teach your kids? Can I mow your lawn?’

The PIE: Seriously? I’m seeing a trait of persistence here.

RS: Yes I had to, there was no money. I had around AUS$130 left and I had to pay AUS$150 rent in two days and I couldn’t get a job in the first 15- 20 days. In reality, I could have arranged money, I could have asked my parents, but I really didn’t want to do that to my family.

All the savings my dad had, he had saved for my sister’s marriage. So that was another big responsibility. It got to the stage that I only had two days left before I ran out of money.

I went to Centrelink at 6am where they told me that ‘this is only for Australian citizens. We can’t provide a job for you’. I persisted and said ‘I’m not leaving unless I get something.’ At 3pm, the Centrelink employee – who probably felt sorry for me – arranged a job, which was like nearly two and a half hours from where I lived in Wollongong. The job was in Brookwell, in Sydney. To make the job, I had to run for 20 minutes, take a train to Central and take a bus and then run another 20 minutes.

The PIE: What were you studying?

RS: I was studying IT. I then transferred to Sydney because the job was in Sydney, I completed my advanced diploma in IT in a private college and – after doing every job you can imagine: restaurants and building construction – I started doing a lot of tutoring to many students.

“These students have the same issues that I had when they come to Australia – they’re looking for accommodation”

This way, I saved AUS$30,000-40,000, and since I was so desperate to complete my studies I went back again to university and completed my postgraduate in IT.

The PIE: And how did you transition from postgrad to entrepreneur?

RS: When I graduated I couldn’t get a job and probably that was the best thing that happened in my career. I was lost as to what to do and then I thought, the only skill I have is my IT knowledge, so I planned to start an IT training company.

Other IT training companies were closing as they believed that people had no money and so could not afford to pay for the training. My attitude was that if they don’t have a job, what are they going to do, they need to upgrade, and I came up with a concept. Our offer was to train students for three months in technical skills, arrange live projects in companies and students were only required to pay after 12 months.

I explained to the bank that I needed them to provide study loans that I would guarantee. It was not standard for the bank to approve and I succeeded after several meetings with senior bank members. The first advertisement cost me the entire balance on my credit card AUS$3,000 and I had no money in my savings account. I then enrolled eight students and the company earned AUS$80,000 in the first week. I trained my students every day and then the company expanded and became a Microsoft Gold Partner and Cisco Partner in training and Infrastructure solution services within a year.

The PIE: And what was your next step?

RS: I acquired a struggling English language school ELSIS. The school had nearly AUS$600,000 liability. I used to supply computers and I got to know the college. They asked me to be involved and help the college to stay afloat. So I did and I eventually acquired the college. We re-located the college to Sydney CBD from Bondi Junction in a much smaller location with immediate savings (AUS$12,000 rent compared to AUS$60,000).

The business still had difficulty and at the beginning, we only had 15 days to turn things around. We learned very quickly that we needed to improve the way the college was doing business, and, with my IT background, we brought in new sophisticated IT systems and an improved communication platform.

“In the first few months we increased revenue by AUS$500,000”

Over the next 4-5 days, we met more than 100 agents, and very quickly, came up with a few promotions and assurances to our key recruitment partners. This was very successful, in the first few months we increased revenue by AUS$500,000 and the college was profitable from that point on.

The PIE: No way.

RS: During that time I noticed that many students completing ELSIS studies needed further study and these students progressed to courses at other colleges or universities. So, it was obvious that we needed to expand and offer higher education and other diploma courses.

We approached Victoria University and, although we were a small college at the time, they accepted our proposal. We then worked with their senior staff and, after 18 months, we established the VU Sydney campus.

The PIE: How did business develop?

RS: With VU we collaborated together, and developed a set of in-demand courses to offer at the VU Sydney campus. It has grown significantly over the years and now has nearly 2,500 students. We have excellent management and governance processes and committees.

The success of this and other ECA endeavours is our focus on nationality mix. We are not just reliant on one or two nationalities. We profile students from each country and further we profile students from different cities within the same country and run targeted campaigns as students requirements vary from city to city. We have developed sophisticated systems with targeted marketing, scholarships and have managed to create a very successful managed campus for our partner universities.

The ECA business consists of ECA online, University Partnerships with two major universities in Australia, our own Higher Education college, three VET colleges, Job Ready Programs, Internships and an English College. ECA is planning to extend the partner university campus model in the UK and NZ in 2020.

The PIE: So you have a good granular understanding of each student market and price points needed to recruit?

RS: We have a dedicated recruitment team within Australia and in a number of overseas countries that provide market intelligence for ECA on course trends and work opportunities.

We also developed a system where we can accurately predict the visa risk rating 12 months in advance for each country, and we work with partners using our transparent system.

The PIE: And how did your experience of being a student help, do you think, as you built up your businesses?

RS: When we first started Victoria University Sydney, we found that a number of good students failed subjects in the first semester [at the managed campus]. These students have the same issues that I, and many international students had when they come to Australia – they’re looking for accommodation. And the real estate agents want to see payslips and evidence of work experience. Students when they arrive don’t have all this.

“Internships have been part of the business model since day one”

By week five, mid-term assignments are due and they’re still struggling to find accommodation and part-time jobs. I thought, I need to fix this situation or it is going to be the same for students in the next semester.

Therefore, I supported a student housing business 2 Stay which now has 600 beds across Australia. We provided fully furnished accommodation with internet and latest computers and they started to settle down and their results improved.

The PIE: So your success was due to understanding the difficulties in transitioning..

RS: On top of that, our students study a university degree and our business model is to provide internships to all our students.

When I graduated, I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have work experienceSo we are helping all our students in that area. We place around 2,000 internships at present. Internships have been part of the business model since day one. Our model of support called the ECA advantage, which offers airport pickup, accommodation support, free workshops to assist in finding casual jobs, free industry in-demand certifications to ensure that our students graduate with latest knowledge plus a number of other value-adds.

The PIE: How big is ECA altogether?

RS: Now, within the group, we have 670 employees in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. We established the first Australian University Operation in India. ECA has a presence in many countries. We have now people working for us in Spain, Italy, South America, Indonesia, China, India, and the Philippines.

We are considering listing the company in the near future.

The PIE: You must feel very proud. 

RS: I love people. I love my students. Education is my passion. We currently have around 8,000 students studying with us. And now it will grow further because we have recently started a partnership with Swinburne University. We have built a beautiful campus in Parramatta.

The PIE: What do your parents think about your achievements?

RS: Actually, my parents didn’t even know much of what I did until a few years back, to be honest.

It was only when my Dad saw my picture with prime minister Modi and attended an event then probably, my father realised that, maybe I’m doing something useful. He keeps asking me when I am going to finish my PhD!

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Turkey: UNIVA invest £10m in UK PBSA market

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 05:04

Turkish purpose-built student accommodation provider UNIVA has invested £10 million into UK-based student property and facility management company Opto Living

The investment deal with Opto Living was finalised in February 2020 and will see the acquisition of 140 luxury student studio suites in Cardiff city centre. 

“Quite simply, students will find that there will be no better place to live in Cardiff”

Opto Property Group will develop and act as the main contractor, while Opto Living will be the operator and facilities manager of the brand-new site under the name of UNIVA & Opto Cardiff.

“We’re delighted to have invested with Opto Living to deliver a new standard of accommodation to those studying in Cardiff,” said UNIVA chairman, Rıza Erkanlı. 

“With this partnership between our like-minded and forward-looking organisations, we will deliver exceptional student living at competitive prices.

“Quite simply, students will find that there will be no better place to live in Cardiff.” 

Amenities at the new accommodation will include a wide range of sporting and leisure facilities including a basketball court, tennis court, games room, clubhouse, spa treatment room and wellness salon. 

It will also have a private dining room, on-site management and security, and a 24/7 reception service.

“UNIVA & Opto Cardiff defines luxury student living,” said Jerald Solis, director of Opto Property Group.

“Developed in close consultation with Cardiff City Council, it has been carefully designed to meet the exacting needs of the students at the three prestigious universities in the city. 

“The development centres around the concept of ‘Collective Living’ as we strive to future-proof the accommodation to meet the needs of the broad spectrum of those living in our building.”

UNIVA is Turkey’s first and largest purpose-built student accommodation provider. It is a subsidiary of Erkanli Holding, a real estate investment specialist with experience in domestic and international projects.

UNIVA currently provides fully furnished student houses in Turkey, with a total capacity of 4,911 bed spaces, which will increase to 10,000.

The company is set to continue investment into the UK and will be followed by stakes in the German and Spanish student housing markets.

The post Turkey: UNIVA invest £10m in UK PBSA market appeared first on The PIE News.

Evacuation hopes fade for many African students on lockdown in Wuhan

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 02:33

Nearly two months after the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, homesick African students studying in the country have given up on pleas to their governments to evacuate them from the locked-down city of Wuhan, regarded the epicentre of the epidemic.

While nearly 50 African countries have students enrolled in universities in the coronavirus hit Hubei province, only a handful of the countries mainly from north Africa have acted on desperate pleas to evacuate their students, with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa expressing reservations about the move or adopting a wait-and-see stance.

“We still stand with our demand to be evacuated and plead with Kenya government to act fast”

The decision not to airlift the students is being linked to fears that the move could see the rescued learners bringing the virus home where health systems are too weak to deal with an outbreak, while in other cases cost implications are being cited as a possible reason.

Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Mauritius, Mauritania, Morocco, Seychelles, South Africa and Tunisia have acted to move their citizens, while the rest of the countries on the continent advising their desperate to “stay put” and comply with control measures imposed by Chinese authorities.

South Africa, SSA region’s most developed economy, has moved to rescue its 190 students studying in Wuhan, while the Indian Ocean island state of Seychelles has indicated that it would be airlifting its citizens from the city.

“We as Kenyan students in China have made it clear to our embassy and relevant officials that Kenyans in Wuhan need evacuation, however, the government has been slow to respond, but we still stand with our demand to be evacuated and plead with Kenya government to act fast,” Kenyan student, Festus Kosgei, told The PIE News on March 9.

The situation in Wuhan, he said, is desperate with people spending as many as 18 hours a day indoors doing nothing.

“This is totally irresponsible, especially now that COVID-19 is almost being declared a pandemic, any wise government would evacuate its people very fast,” lamented the third-year student at the University of Wuhan.

“I am a Kenyan, I simply came to Wuhan to study and go back home safely. No amount of money can guarantee us safety; we just want to be home. The risks here are real,” Judy Serrem a Kenyan student stranded in Wuhan pleaded in twitter post last month.

Kenya like its neighbouring Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan has adamantly refused to bring home students, instead choosing to support them with essential supplies, while “closely monitoring the situation” according to the country’s envoy to China Sarah Serem.

“I spoke to my sister about an hour ago, she is fine and trying to keep calm. She said the lock-down is stricter than it was at the beginning and that they are running short of supplies…” – Rebecca Ndirangu #SundayLive pic.twitter.com/kSKszHiHOK

— Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) March 1, 2020


The East African nation has so far released US$18,000 to support its 97 students in Wuhan with “essential supplies” including self -protection gear and hand sanitizers, according to the envoy.

“For how long shall the Kenya Embassy pretend to be helping us, for how long shall Kenyan foreign office ignore our calls for evacuation?” asked another Kenyan student, Mark Kipkorir.

A similar position has been taken by the West African country of Ghana, Africa’s leader in terms of population of students in China (6,500) with the country’s health minister announcing that the country was ready to ship tons of non-perishable local foods for its 300 students stuck in Wuhan.

According to Farook Lalji, director of Koala Education Consultants – a student placement company with operations in Kenya and Nigeria – the COVID-19 crisis is yet to negatively recruitment companies since many had already sent their students to universities abroad during early January and February before the crisis escalated.

It could, however, hit their business hard should the outbreak not be brought under control by July this year when universities in destinations such as Australia hold round two of student recruitments, he noted.

Companies, he said, were apprehensive of the future especially with upcoming recruitment drives by a number of Australian universities where representatives are to meet prospective students in Nairobi, with one scheduled for this week already having being cancelled.

“The rules imposed by authorities on control of COVID-19 allows entry to the country only for people who have spent 14 days in a country that has not reported any single case of the disease, unfortunately, our collaborators do not meet the condition and the event had to be cancelled,” said the director, without disclosing further details.

“No amount of money can guarantee us safety; we just want to be home”

His sentiments are shared by Irene Kamau, director OF 3M Overseas Education Advisory Centre in Nairobi, who said that they were keenly observing the unfolding situation, hoping it would not negatively affect their business.

So far, she said, no cancellations of their placements had taken place.

China is emerging as a favourite study destination for African students, hosting a total of 81,000 Africans in 2018 according to Study International, with the majority of them enjoying various categories of Chinese government scholarships.

The post Evacuation hopes fade for many African students on lockdown in Wuhan appeared first on The PIE News.

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