Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

Demand for Spanish and ties to Latin America key for international education in Spain

“Many millions of people all over the world are going to learn [Spanish]. The importance of Latin America really makes Spanish the second most important language worldwide.”—Antonio Anadon, head of the Spain-based Ideal Education Group (IEG), which operates 40+ language schools in Latin America and Spain.

Spain is an interesting country in today's international student recruitment landscape for two reasons:

  1. It continues to suffer economic woes – which have led the government to adopt austerity measures that are affecting its education sector and students – and so Spanish students are increasingly going abroad to study;
  2. It is a land of native Spanish speakers, great beauty, some excellent language and business schools, and ties to Latin America – and so it is a very compelling study destination for some students.

This ICEF Monitor post touches on both ends of Spain’s current situation as it applies to the global education landscape, and is thus relevant to agents with an interest in sending students to and from Spain, institutions with study abroad programmes, and anyone wanting to know a little more about the Spanish education market today. In addition, we will include three video segments featuring an interview with Mr Anadon, who feels that Spain’s economic situation is bound to turn around and that the increasing importance of the Spanish language – as well as a growing trend of teaching English in Spanish higher education institutions – will serve the country well.

Spanish grows as an international language

As we mentioned in our article, “Globalised economy continues to drive demand for foreign languages,” leading companies across the globe are beginning to insist on candidates being proficient in more than one language. Just one quote from an Economist survey of 572 executives in Europe, Asia Pacific, North America and Latin America cited in the article underlines the importance of foreign language proficiency for graduates:

“Even when recruiting for jobs in their home market, almost one-half of all companies say that prospective candidates need to be fluent in a foreign language and a further 13% say that multilingual ability is a key selection.”

We also reported that in many leading markets, Spanish is cited by leading publications as among the top five most important languages to learn. A 2006 report from Eurobarometer has Spanish as:

  • The 2nd most widely spoken language by number of native speakers;
  • The 4th most spoken language by number of total speakers;
  • The 4th most spoken language by number of countries where the language has official status;
  • The 3rd most used on the Internet.

More than 20 countries have Spanish as its official language, including almost all countries in Latin America. Spanish is also widely spoken in the US, especially in the southwest. Because of the globalised economy, statistics like these have never been more important. Whereas even a decade ago, it would be nice to learn another language simply for the joy of learning and expanding fluency, now it is becoming a business imperative. Simply put: leading multinational firms are requiring more than English. And students are responding. In 2013, we reported that 18 million students were studying Spanish as a foreign language. Spain, of course, is well placed to accommodate growing demand for Spanish language instruction. In the video, Mr Anadon notes that his language schools are seeing great demand from Asia, the US, and Europe, and that they have a policy of diversifying enrolments so that no one nationality dominates among the international student population. He also feels that ties to the crucial Latin American market – where Spanish is spoken virtually everywhere – will be helpful to Spain’s international education sector and to the economy in general. (On that note: a recent decision to mutually recognise Spanish and Colombian diplomas and degrees will facilitate schooling and employment paths for degree-holding Colombians and Spaniards in both countries.)

Spanish students increasingly learning English

Already lucky to have Spanish as their native tongue given the language’s growing importance in the global economy, Spanish students now have far more English-language options within their own borders. The English Proficiency Index (EPI) reports that:

“Spain’s current education reforms defining English, math, and Spanish as the three key subjects, the explosion of bilingual education at the primary and pre-primary level, and a growing number of Spanish students and professionals overseas all point to a sea change in Spain’s attitude towards English proficiency.”

EPI says that in terms of English proficiency, Spain now outpaces both France and Italy, and that in Europe, “only Poland and Hungary have improved their English more than Spain during the past six years." Another new development in 2014 is that graduating high school students will need to pass an oral English test as part of their exit exams. Increased English proficiency can only help Spanish students achieve greater success in the globalised economy.

Spain has been a big participant in the Erasmus programme

The Erasmus programme

, the EU’s initiative to facilitate student mobility among member countries, saw 252,827 students participate in 2011/12 – and many of them were either coming from Spain or going there to study. University World News reports that Spain dominated the list of institutions playing a role in this mobility, with “31 institutions in the top 100 for both sending and receiving students.” Spain sent out 39,545 students and received 39,300 during 2011/12, making it the main participating country in Erasmus during that period. Yet late last year the Spanish government was planning deep cuts to its financial commitment to the Erasmus programme as part of the austerity measures it is undertaking to help its economy recover. A massive student protest – as well as political opposition within the government itself – was successful in stopping a decision that would have seen current Spanish Erasmus students stripped of financial support.

Despite language opportunities, Spain’s education system is still in trouble

The widely criticised plans to cut Erasmus funding are part of an overall austerity approach the Spanish government is practising in response to its economy, which continues to suffer. And the country’s education system has not been spared. The Huffington Post reports the following:

  • College tuition fees rose 66% in 2012/13 alone;
  • Scholarship beneficiaries fell by 62%;
  • Public schools lost 24,957 teachers;
  • The number of scholarship beneficiaries fell by 24,520 over the past year;
  • Financial aid for the purchase of school supplies has dropped by more than 59%;
  • Teachers’ salaries have been frozen since 2011, and Times Higher Education reports that academics’ salaries were cut by 20% in 2013.

There are several issues being debated now as Spain attempts to reform its system, including a perceived widening gap in the ability of poor vs. rich students to access quality education, a situation in which many professors are in fact “absentee” and contributing very little to the academic life of universities, and a resulting inability to retain the most talented students and academics. Perhaps most pressing is the austerity measures’ effect on lower income students: Britain’s The Telegraph reports that “figures show that 30,000 students are on the verge of abandoning their studies at the start of the academic year because they can't meet tuition or living costs,” and that public funding of universities has been cut by 12.3% – €1.2 billion (£1 billion) since 2010. Possibly related to the education sector’s cutbacks, demand for study abroad was up by an estimated 157% among Spanish students in 2013.

Education as a way out

As tempting as it may be for a recession-plagued country to lump education in with other sectors when looking at ways to cut spending, over the long term, studies show that it is education that stands the best chance of helping an economy to recover. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annual Education at a Glance 2013 report shows conclusively that further education is the best way to offset a lack of work experience for young people, and a reliable path to improved opportunities for better earnings and employment prospects. One of the most significant findings in the 2013 report is that unemployment rates are nearly three times higher among those who left high school early (13% on average across OECD countries) than among those who have a tertiary education (5%). We can hope that the Spanish government takes into account statistics like these as it attempts to lead the country toward more stable economic times. The country’s innate advantages with respect to language and natural beauty would be well bolstered by a strengthened higher education system. We leave you with the last part of our video interview with Mr Anadon, President and CEO of Spain-based IEG, which operates 40+ language schools in Latin America and Spain.

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