Almost 150 language centres and industry insiders braved the Tube strike in London to attend the launch of a new market report on Colombia.
Author Alex Jones was very positive about the new opportunities in the South American country for English Language centres in the UK -- providing they put in time to research the market and find the right people to work with.
"It's a really exciting place to be working at the moment: it's thrown off its shackles, overcome its political instability, and is investing hugely in its infrastructure and tourism. It's a beautiful country too: and intertwined with all that is a huge need for English language training," she says.
As director of the Red Tree Study consultancy which is based in Bogota and London, Ms Jones has a deep knowledge of Colombia and spent a lot of time interviewing agents and students to research her report for English UK and the British Council.
She says: "It's a good time to consider getting into Colombia if you work with fairly specific types of students. If you work with juniors, for instance, you'd be so unlikely to even get one group a year that it's not worth it, and the same for short business courses, where people will go to the USA which is much closer.
"But younger students -- perhaps aged 20 to 30, university level or just finishing university and want to improve their language skills to either graduate or get into the job market -- that's a very specific market that's there."
The report highlights the increasing need for Colombian university students to achieve an English level of CEFR B1 before they are allowed to graduate, but that this training is rarely available as part of the course. As a result, many young Colombians choose to take a break from their universities and study English abroad.
However, the UK market suffers from misconceptions in Colombia, particularly that the cost of living is uniformly very high -- people tend to overestimate prices, and assume everywhere will be similar to London -- and are upset about the removal of work rights. Many agents were unaware that Tier 4 English Language students could still work for up to 10 hours a week if they were enrolled in state universities or colleges.
Surprisingly, the UK scored well for its visa system, scoring just behind Australia for having the "fairest" system. By contrast, Canada's reputation has fallen through the rankings recently for having high refusal rates with no explanation.
Other important points highlighted in the report are the value of flexible start dates to the Colombian market, the trust in homestay accommodation and the packaging of English Language courses by weeks rather than terms. The market, says the report, is very price-sensitive.
"The average Colombian travelling overseas to study English is a fairly young university student, aged between 17 and 25. The majority are still being supported by their parents, and Colombia is a particularly price-sensitive market. Despite the growth of the middle classes in Colombia, and evidence of an economic boom, Colombians rarely display their wealth ostentatiously. Even the wealthiest Colombians are keen to find good value for money."
Asked what advice Ms Jones would give to language centres keen to break into the Colombian market, she said: "First, do your research, and choose your agents well. You do need to get some background before you get into this market. Look at who you want to work with, and go with the best agents for that. You could also look at English UK's partner agents in the country, and those who have been through British Council training.
"There's also an English UK Fair in Colombia later in the year, and it's worth keeping an eye out to see if there are other events as well."
Members can click here to access this Colombia report as well as the previous reports produced in English UK and the British Council's English Language Market Report series.