Sharply rising numbers of newcomers and senior educators at this year's StudyWorld London appear to reflect changing conditions in the study abroad market.
Almost a quarter of around 850 attendees this year were first-timers, compared with a fifth in 2011, and twice the number of Director's Passes were issued this September than the previous year. These enable senior educators to meet contacts informally and roam the event as they wish.
"These changes in our demographic are really interesting," said Siobhan Baccas, English UK's senior international manager who is responsible for organising StudyWorld.
"We think that many organisations are looking to make new, quality contacts and are choosing to come to us, as the industry leader, for the first time, which is why there is a higher proportion of newcomers than usual.
"The directors' passes, on the other hand, are being used by senior management, who usually have staff in the halls on the regular meetings allowing them to meet contacts in a more informal way.
"It's looking like a year where agents and educators alike are looking to extend their reach. Higher numbers than usual are seeking a new group of business partners, while those who are in a very secure position are still looking for that extra edge. It made for a very interesting event, and one where we had many positive comments about the quality of the agents attending."
One first-time attendee was Stephen Muhleisen of the Canadian Loyalist Group, explaining that the expanding organisation now had six schools and was looking to do more in the European market. "We said this is the fair to come to. This is our best opportunity to begin to promote ourselves throughout Europe," he said.
Judith Hands, Torquay International School's managing director, was also pleased with her director's pass. "I thought it was great. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, it was really useful and I will probably do it again."
Opening the event's 43rd year, English UK's Chief Executive Tony Millns was positive about the market. "The language travel industry is still growing and it makes it a really good sector to work in, despite everything governments try to do.
"For international students to go and take a general educational course in good institutions globally, that's what we're about here at StudyWorld and English UK, and by being here you are supporting this agenda and I think that's really important. We are not just here to have a good time and do work but to reaffirm fundamental human right to travel. It's very important and we need to remember it in the next couple of days."
Some reassurance about one UK student visa route was given during the event's seminar programme by Erica Thurbon of the UK Border Agency, who told delegates she could say "with great confidence" that there was "no agenda or plans" to take away the Extended Student Visitor Visa, which allows English Language study for 6-11 months.
As usual, there were innovations at StudyWorld which included the first-ever sponsorship by a language school, the London School of English, celebrating its centenary year. Managing director Hauke Tallon said: "StudyWorld's been going very well. It's a lot of fun and we're very pleased to be sponsoring it. It's been worthwhile."
Another innovation was an informal social event on the second night, which is now planned to become an annual and larger event. The Brit Pop 'n' Bowl Party, which included a pie supper, a bowling competition and karaoke at the iconic Bloomsbury Lanes, was attended by around a third of StudyWorld's delegates.
Feedback was extraordinarily good, with agents and educators alike really enjoying the chance to relax together and make new friends in teams, many organised by English UK.
Justin Quinn, managing director of the Centre for English Studies in Dublin, said: "Last night was excellent: a nice, relaxed, informal bit of fun and a good way to network. I think it was a fantastic job I wasn't going to go, but I did. It takes a lot for an old fogey like me to see something different."
He was also pleased with the whole event: "The quality of agents is always very good... we have full appointment schedules and I have had no no-shows. I've been very, very busy."
View an album of photos from StudyWorld London 2012 on the StudyWorld Facebook page.
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