Unstable economies, devalued currencies and political tensions may have shaken student mobility in Brazil, Spain, Russia and Turkey in recent years, but educators need not lose hope.

This was the message shared by representatives of agency associations in the four countries at ALTO’s panel on market trends, held during ICEF Berlin 2015.

Coming together for a day of pre-workshop networking and market intelligence, ALTO members gained valuable insights on how to better engage with agencies during the afternoon panel session. Panelists were optimistic about the resilience of their respective outbound markets, despite economic and political obstacles, and said that demand for language study abroad remains alive and well.

Anastassia Romanenko, representing AREA in Russia, predicted that in the coming year, “We’ll have more or less the same number of outgoing students, but they will be going to other places”, despite last year’s rouble crash and ensuing economic instability. According to Romanenko, Russian students are being priced out of traditionally popular study destinations like the UK due to its strong currency, and are turning instead to more affordable alternatives such as the Czech Republic and Ireland.

Ireland, Malta and South Africa are attracting students from Brazil, Spain, Russia and Turkey away from the UK and USA, as are Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Educators who are committed to weathering the storm must forge strong relationships with agents on the ground, according to Maura Leao, president of Belta in Brazil. “It’s a time when you should look for strong agents, very well positioned agents in the country,” she counselled. She also advised providers to “be patient with your partners” – even reputable agents may need support such as being able to pay fees in instalments.

“I don’t know if you understand what it means when your currency changes from the early hours of the morning to the afternoon, and so we end the day with a different rate,” she said, adding that current trading conditions are similar to those during the crisis in 2012.

Eren Goker, president of UED in Turkey, also emphasised the importance of working closely with well-positioned agents. He noted that agents play a crucial role in ensuring that student meetings at recruitment fairs convert to applications. “When they come to a fair, students don’t book immediately,” he noted. “Somebody needs to phone them, email them, remind them, ask them to come to the office and have a cup of tea and talk about studying abroad – so coming to fairs yourself would not help, you need an agent’s support.”

Goker noted that there is likely to be upheaval in Turkey’s agency sector in the coming months, including greater regulation, following the election. Meanwhile, he noted that most adults interested in studying abroad are investing in education “to get better business and find a good job”.

Employment was a common motivator for students in all the countries. In Brazil, adults are now increasingly looking to study abroad for longer periods – 4-6 months rather than 4 weeks – as many are losing their jobs and using the extra time and redundancy pay to invest in study overseas, hoping that it will help their employment prospects. “We need to have a foreign language and English is the main one that we should learn,” said Leao. “To get a better job, you have to be well trained, so the demand is there.”

Meanwhile in Spain, work and study programmes are growing in popularity, according to Juan Manuel Elizalde, who has just stepped down as president of Aseproce. With the improved level of English thanks to the bilingual schools in Spain, parents are looking for more academic programmes for their children and not programmes just for “fun”. He said that while Spain will not see the return of the generous outbound scholarships or ‘becas’ of previous years, there is some optimism in the industry as people are regaining confidence and deciding to travel again.

Similarly in Russia, people are “feeling more secure” now that the rouble is stabilising, Romanenko said.

As well as these tips, ALTO members enjoyed greater insight into how agencies and providers are doing in the ALTO – Deloitte Language Travel Industry Survey.