Brazil: research highlights shift to affordable destinations and career-oriented studies

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • BELTA has just released new research on 2015 trends in the Brazilian study abroad market
  • The data points to a distinct shift to more affordable destinations, notably Canada, Ireland, and Malta
  • Language courses remain the main product category for Brazilian agents but demand is shifting away from general English studies in favour of more specialised programmes, especially those tied to students’ career aspirations
  • Reflecting the challenging economic conditions in Brazil, demand is also heightened for programmes that combine work and study, and for destinations that permit students to work during and/or after their studies
  • Nearly half of agents reported a decline in sales for 2015 but more than a third recorded growth during the year

Earlier this month, BELTA – the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association – presented new research on 2015 trends in the Brazilian market for study abroad. The research draws on two surveys conducted during 2015: the first a survey of 135 education agents (including 115 BELTA members and 20 non-members), and the second a student survey of nearly 2,000 respondents. The student sample included two groups: students who had already studied abroad and those who hadn’t but who are interested in doing so.

The research reveals that Brazilians are shifting their decision-making about overseas destinations amid the current economic and political crisis affecting their country. Affordability has never been more important to Brazilian students wanting to study abroad, and they are making decisions accordingly.

Preferred destinations shift from 2013

The relative popularity of various study abroad destinations has changed for Brazilian agents and students over the past couple of years, according to research conducted by BELTA in 2013 and then again in 2015.

In 2013, the top destinations were Canada, the US, and the UK; in 2015, Australia replaced the UK in third spot, with the UK falling to fifth place. BELTA President Maura de Araujo Leão noted that the survey underlined a commonly known perception in Brazil that Canada is the most popular option because of its relative affordability, while the US is the “dream country” to study in.

After Canada, the US, and Australia, the next-most popular destinations are Ireland (retaining its 4th-place position from 2013), the UK (bumped to 5th), New Zealand (up two places from 7th), Malta (making the list for the first time), South Africa (rising two places to 8th), France (down from 8th), and Spain (down four places from 6th to 10th).

most-popular-study-destinations-for-brazilian-students
Most popular study destinations for Brazilian students, as reported by education agencies, 2015. Source: BELTA

Ms Leão noted that cost considerations have become more pressing due to Brazil’s current economic recession, and that students are looking carefully at currency conversion rates as well as whether they will have the opportunity to work when considering where they will study. That the British government has increasingly restricted international students’ work rights is likely contributing to the UK’s descent down the list of top ten most-popular destinations for Brazilian students, particularly as the UK is among the more expensive destinations for study abroad. Conversely, Canada, Ireland, and Malta are more affordable, and it is not surprising to see that agents say they are currently high on the radar of Brazilian students.

Brazilian students corroborate agents’ sense of how the tides are changing regarding popular study abroad destinations. In 2014, 18.8% of Brazilian students said they went to Canada; in 2015, 31% did – more than the proportion that went to the US. In 2014, 22.3% of students said they went to the US; this fell slightly to 19% in 2015. Other countries that experienced significant gains from the Brazilian market in 2015 were Ireland (from 8.7% in 2014 to 17% in 2015) and New Zealand (from 3.9% to 12%).

Meanwhile, Brazilian students were much less likely to study in the UK in 2015 (7%) than in the previous year (14.4%).

In 2015, 22–24-year-olds were the age group most likely to study abroad, followed by 25–29-year-olds, then by 18–21-year-olds. The most typical duration of study abroad was 1–3 months.

The Brazilian economy is making things more difficult

All of the barriers agents noted for students interested in study abroad centre on the troubled Brazilian economy and the political instability that walks hand in hand with it. Agents mentioned the real’s, the Brazilian currency’s, depreciation relative to the US dollar and Euro, a decrease in their clients’ purchasing power, the country’s overall political and economic crisis, and unemployment as the main obstacles frustrating students’ dreams of study abroad.

Nearly half of the responding agents (46.2%) indicated that their sales had declined in 2015 (when compared to 2014). Another 17.9% said their sales were roughly the same, and 35.9% reported year-over-year sales growth.

When students who want to study abroad in 2016 were asked how likely they are to actually do so, the group saying they were not very likely (54%) was roughly twice the size of the group saying they were very likely (26.2%) to go abroad. Again, the undercurrent of economic instability is evident: the largest group of prospective students (60.9%) said they would most likely be self-funded – a volatile situation for many Brazilian students and families at the moment. The next largest group thought they might obtain an international scholarship through an international agency (38.5%), followed by “with help from my family” (34.5%), then via a national scholarship (32.5%).

Language studies are the leading placements

The survey reveals that language programmes (English – far in the lead – followed by Spanish, French, and German) remain the most popular category of placements for agents, followed by placements in high schools, youth-oriented travel packages, and language learning incorporating a temporary work component. Importantly, however, the latter category emerged as the most-popular study option for Brazilian students who have not yet studied abroad but who would like to.

Agents report that learning another language is the main motivation for most Brazilian students wanting to study abroad, and that wanting to improve their resume to obtain desirable jobs is the next.

Most students are self-funded

The vast majority of Brazilian students who have studied abroad said they were self-funded: roughly 90%, split between “own savings” (49.4%) and family (40.6%). The rest are on national or international scholarships.

Most students paid for their studies in person through an agency (61%), while 31.4% paid the school in the destination country (31.4%). The remaining group paid through an agency via the Internet.

Students mentioned “trust” as the most important reason they chose to book with the agency they did, followed by ease of contact, customisation of service, and cost of the study abroad options on offer.

Peer-to-peer recommendations count the most

Most students said they are influenced in their study abroad decisions by friends, followed by study abroad-related websites, then student fairs, then family, and then agencies.

A prime motivation for students to study abroad is to be able to use the experience as a competitive advantage in a tough labour market. Ms Leão stressed that “increasing employability is a crucially important factor during the [recessionary] crisis we have been going through.” She noted that for students interested in study abroad, the most popular types of intended study relate to career: language courses accompanied by a temporary job, language programmes, post-graduate degrees, undergraduate degrees, and vocational courses.

Opportunities amid challenging times

The recent BELTA research highlights the greater urgency for Brazilian students to choose study abroad programmes that increase their chances in the tough Brazilian jobs market. Students are becoming more interested in:

  1. English-language programmes with a temporary job attached to them (again, the most popular type of programme among Brazilian students who have not yet studied abroad but who want to); and
  2. English-language programmes geared toward a specific academic discipline or professional occupation.

As Ms Leão commented last year in some of our earlier coverage of the Brazilian market :

“The demand is always there. We need to learn a foreign language and English of course is the language of the world nowadays. But now students look for a language programme that can provide more specialised knowledge. For example, an engineer working for a multinational in Brazil will look for a language programme that offers a specialty for their careers. This makes it a richer experience for them. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, I went abroad for a four-week programme of English,’ it’s much better to say, ‘I went for this programme that brought me more knowledge in my professional field.’”

She added that more focused ELT programmes are interesting for students facing a number of difficult scenarios, such as having already lost a job or being concerned about the possibility of job loss. She explained that further study abroad is a way of building skills and becoming better prepared for the next career opportunity.

Despite their tough economy right now, many Brazilian students will remain interested in study abroad – but they will be looking for greater affordability and they will want programmes strongly oriented to improving their career prospects.



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