UNEASY and uncertain times around the globe could prove to be a blessing in disguise for WA’s schools and colleges offering English courses to overseas students.While no figures are yet available, anecdotal evidence shows that Australia, and Perth in particular, is experiencing a wave of interest, especially from Europe.But it is not purely the quality of courses that is the drawcard for foreign students. The weather, beaches, lifestyle and relatively low cost of living, now combined with the unattractiveness of studying in the US and the UK are contributing to the growing interest.The low Australian dollar is also making the trip to Perth more affordable than doing a similar course in England, according to Milner International College of English director Warren Milner.“Who wants to go from one rainy, cold climate to another in the UK? From Switzerland it is cheaper to come here than to the United Kingdom, despite the higher airfares,” he said.Mr Milner said many students came here on a travel visa, spent three months studying then travelled around WA or Australia.A recent survey shows WA has taken a leading hand in bringing English to the world with English language courses increasing 10 per cent during the past year.The English Australia Survey of Regional Markets shows that the English language industry is one of Australia’s fastest growing exports, with around $150 million injected into the WA economy by overseas English language students. English Australia chairman Alyson Moore said Australia’s education exports are almost on a par with gold.“During the past year, language courses injected nearly $550 million into the economy, compared with $486 million the previous year – an annual increase of 13 per cent, meaning the industry is arguably Australia’s fastest growing export,” she said.“Australia is becoming the preferred destination for students studying English, thanks to the quality of our courses, our low dollar and the cost of living.”International Language Academy director and WA Private Education and Training Industry Association chair, John Paxton said the industry was currently particularly buoyant as it entered another high season when students come to Perth to enjoy the Summer.While acknowledging that Perth could benefit from students redirecting their holiday preferences to WA, he said the main concern was that people would no longer want to travel.“The English market is a travel English market,” Mr Paxton said.“People learn English because they want to travel. I think the (global) English language travel market will shrink because students are no longer wanting to travel. But in Australia there is no evidence of this yet.”While Asians preferred the Eastern States for their course, Europeans were predominantly choosing Perth as their destination..Nearly four times as many Europeans choose Perth for their English courses as Melbourne.For instance, at the Milner International College of English, half the students come from the Northern Hemisphere continent.The Survey found the rate of enrolments from countries such as Russia, Switzerland, Belgium and Venezuela are rapidly catching up with the more traditional Asian markets, such as China, Japan and Korea.While Asia remains the largest source of students taking courses offered in Australia, enrolments of European students grew by 41 per cent last year, with Swiss, Russian and Italian students recording the greatest increase.Mr Milner said with the multiplier effect for every dollar spent, a further $2 was spent, resulting in an average $5000 injection into the WA economy by each student.“The boom is good news for local tourism and leisure businesses as well as education. Many students take the opportunity to travel within the state while they are here,” he said.“They see WA as exotic, especially the north west. Students are attracted to Perth’s lifestyle, the accessibility of our city, our climate and the safety of our community, which is especially important in light of recent international events. It has been said that because of the current world uncertainty, Australia – and especially Perth – are now more attractive than ever. Perth is particularly popular with Swiss students, and we even get students travelling from South America.“The English language industry is creating jobs and economic growth in communities that support language colleges throughout the country.”
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