Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- We continue our From the Field series today with a feature video interview with Daniel Saldarriaga Tirado, Relations and Logistics Director for the Colombian agency Viajes y Viajes
- Demand for study abroad is increasing in Colombia but the social and economic context of the country means that students need to be well-supported by both agents and institutions
Editor’s note: We are updating our video channels and the videos linked below are temporarily unavailable.
“Colombian students are starting to travel overseas more and more,” begins Viajes y Viajes’ Daniel Saldarriaga Tirado. “[Colombia] is a recommendation country so every one student who travels brings another two – their relatives, their friends – and [travel abroad] is getting into the Colombian culture.”
Indeed, UNESCO data shows that the number of Colombian tertiary students abroad has increased by about 50% over the last decade to more than 25,000 students in 2013. Tertiary enrolment within the country has grown even faster, more than doubling from 2003 to 2013 to reach 2.1 million, split roughly 50/50 between public and private institutions.
The government is investing heavily in further expanding and strengthening the education system – a system in which English language teaching figures prominently – and has vowed to make Colombia the region’s best-educated country by 2025.
Study abroad, Mr Tirado points out, is a momentous decision for Colombian students. Many students will not have lived on their own up to that point. “[Study abroad] is really a cultural decision for them,” he says. “It’s a really big step and a change of their lives.”
As a result, students may lack confidence in their first trip abroad, and the decision to study overseas is one in which the whole family participates, including the student, parents, and extended family.
As Mr Tirado notes in our first interview clip below, agencies have an important role to play in supporting students and families, calming those pre-travel jitters, and ensuring that students are well briefed and well prepared for their studies outside the country.
Mr Tirado also highlights the economic challenges facing the country currently. The Colombian peso has weakened considerably against the US dollar throughout 2015. Although there has been some improvement this fall, the peso has still lost about 40% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.
The weakening currency is largely a function of the collapse in world oil prices and by weaker commodity prices generally. Colombia’s economic growth, and the value of its currency, are closely tied to the price of oil, and the economic outlook for the country will remain challenging so long as oil and commodity prices are down.
As a result, Mr Tirado says, this drives demand for more support for students in the form of tuition discounts or scholarships from foreign institutions and schools. “It’s a discount market,” he notes. “And it requires scholarships.”
This also bears on the Colombian students’ choice of study destination. They are especially drawn to countries where they can have opportunities to work both during and after their studies. This is an important part of the qualifications that they can bring back home and foreign work experience can be a big boost for a student’s job hunt in Colombia.
In our second video segment below, Mr Tirado also highlights an exciting new opportunity for Colombian students in Europe. Beginning this month, Colombian students can now travel to and within the European Union for up to 90 days without a visa. “That’s a really big opportunity for short courses,” he says. “Not only language courses but also vocational courses.”
Looking ahead, Mr Tirado sees a bright future for international education in Colombia. Colombian students are in demand among a growing field of host countries, and students are looking for international qualifications – both via traditional modes of study and through online learning – to give them a boost in a very competitive job market at home.