2017: A year in news
StudyTravel Magazine News Editor, Matthew Knott, looks back at the major news stories of 2017, a busy year of government interventions in the USA, the dust settling on Brexit, acquisitions and (mostly) industry growth.

There was certainly plenty of exposure for the USA and its new President over the year, as various policies, visa feuds and the resurfacing of commission debates occupied column space.


The international education sector and agents reacted with caution at the start of the year to President Trump's inauguration, but it was his so-called 'travel ban' that became the long-running drama of the year. Announced suddenly in January, the initial 90-day ban on six countries caused confusion and stranded students overseas (ST Magazine, March 2017, p5 - online story here), before being overturned (April, p7 - online story here) as Middle East agents warned of the impact. A revised order allowing existing visa holders to travel followed and was again halted by judges (May, p7 - online stories here and here), then reinstated by the Supreme Court (August, p5 - online story here). The sector received some relief as the order was expanded to eight nations but nuanced to mostly allow student visas to be issued (Nov, p14 - online story here). But at the time of writing, that had just been halted by a judge in Hawaii (online story here)!


Rumoured cuts to the J-1 exchange scheme, outlined in the November issue, caused panic amongst sponsors, agents and employers, but as yet we have received no confirmation on the plans. Meanwhile, diplomatic feuds with Russia and Turkey did little to assuage the concerns of US educators: visa operations were scaled back to only Moscow; while the feud with Turkey reported in this issue caused a halt on all non-immigrant visas (online edit: The U.S. diplomatic mission has now recommenced "limited" visa operations in Turkey).


Additionally, withdrawal of recognition of ACICS accreditation impacted 16,000 overseas students, and a reignited debate on agent commission payments by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (June, p7 - online story here) was ill-timed, although the threat later appeared to recede.


None of this was of much comfort to USA ELT schools, which reported continuing declines due to factors including the strong dollar and reduced scholarships. But the national associations of Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa reported growth for 2016 to varying degrees, not to mention those of Spain, France and Italy. At the annual presentations by GAELA and FELCA (Nov, p7 - online story here), delegates heard mostly positive trends for the current year from school and agency associations - with welcome comebacks from Brazil and Russia in particular.


In the February cover story of ST Magazine, we profiled the increase in mergers and acquisitions on both sides of the sector (p28), an article that proved prescient in assertions that Ireland would be a focus of activity. During 2017, we witnessed global providers EC English (acquiring Kenilworth Institute, pictured below), Holmes Education Group (aquiring ELA) and NCG (Sandycove School of English) enter the Irish market.



Elsewhere, St Giles International acquired a year-round school in Cambridge (New School of English); ACG purchased the Intueri Education Group and the Campbell Institute in New Zealand; Navitas picked up CCEL in the same country; Japan-based Human Holdings acquired IH Pacific in Canada; and also in Canada, CIBT Education Group acquired the troubled KGIC Inc. group's debts and then assets.


Another couple of headline-grabbing deals were major Brazilian agency Experimento being acquired by travel brand CVC (April, p5 - online story here) and global agency chain IDP Education buying the Hotcourses course search portfolio (March, p10 - online story here).


Other news impacting on the agency sector included Australia introducing legislation to allow the sharing of data on agent performance (July, p6 - online story here); China's State Council removing the specific provincial requirement for study abroad agencies (April, p10 - online story here); and Vietnam's government moving in the opposite direction (May, p8 - online story here). matthew@studytravel.network




Brexit's ups and downs


In the UK, the ramifications - positive and negative - of the referendum vote to leave the European Union continued to be felt. In June, we published a two-part story online on the eve of the one-year anniversary, courting the opinions of European agents on its impact (September, p12 - online story here).


Around one third of EU agents surveyed said that business to the UK increased in the 12 months after the vote, with most indicating the weaker pound as a factor. Anecdotal assertions by English UK members and a new quarterly data project also suggested a return to growth in 2017. Concern was greater for the higher education sector, with 98 per cent of agents offering such programmes fearful of the impact of any change to the current fee status and loan access of EU students.


Hopes remain for a wind change in immigration policy following the publication of reports by the Home Office and the Office of National Statistics indicating very high degrees of visa compliance by non-EU students, contrary to previous estimates of overstays in International Passenger Survey data (Oct, p8 - online story here).




ST News in stats


326 news stories published this year in our News section (up to October 31)


The most read story was: 'StudyTravel Star Awards 2017 winners unveiled'


809 photos published in Grapevine (up to October 31)


March 30, 2017 - The very first STtv news broadcast!


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